Saturday, January 8, 2011

Two Roads Diverged

Speech By: Governor Andrew Cuomo
Title: State of the State
Date: January 5, 2011
Location: Convention Center - Albany

Much has been made of the Governor’s decision to change the location of the annual State of the State address from its traditional location, in the Assembly Chamber, to the state Convention Center. Well it should. It is a speech heavy in symbolism.

In making this change, he is making a dramatic statement – before one word has been uttered.
He is sending several important messages:
- That he is ready to exercise the full range of powers available to him as Governor.
- That he is looking to involve the public to a greater extent - the Convention Center holds at least twice as many people as the Assembly chamber (2,200 people, according to the Governor himself.).
- That he understands how to reach out to the public directly, and will do so when necessary.
- That at the same time, he is also willing to work with Legislative leaders, demonstrating this by giving Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a chance to address the crowd first.

This speech is different from the inaugural he gave last weekend. An inaugural is a statement of principles, a State of the State, an outline of policies.

This speech is designed to communicate a direction for the state, and the new Governor does so with flair. As if the new location were not symbolic enough, on the stage behind the podium, were seated 62 high school students from every county in the state. This is symbolic not only of greater public involvement, but that this speech is looking to the future.

He uses 82 projected slides to illustrate the major points of his speech. This is a first for this annual speech, something the Governor duly notes. Power Point can often take away from a speech. While the novelty value alone, adds something - particularly a touch of humor - these seemed to enhance it for the most part. This seemed particularly true for those I spoke to later who were in the live audience. It may have lost something for the television audience.

The first of the slides shows a road forking toward the top of the slide. Problems facing New York were listed at the bottom, then as the slides progress, the problems move off-screen on the left side of the fork. The solutions, which come next, take the right fork to exit.

There is much symbolism here. While the left side, which is the road the problems take, can be thought of as the liberal side, or wing, and the right fork the conservative, it might have another interpretation. In classical allusion, the left is the “sinister” side.

In either event, I think the problems were made to exit stage left for a reason.

He also used slides to great effect with a touch of humor, playing on the old phrase “Ships passing in the night.” He used it to illustrate how the budget negotiations between the Executive and both houses of the Legislature – represented by three ships – two representing the Senate and Assembly traveling in one direction, the much larger one representing his office headed on the opposite course, must not be like ships passing in the night.

While perhaps not a completely accurate representation, it was certainly good theater.

The new Governor did not completely abandon rhetorical convention for the comfort of power point. He uses those tried and true techniques of speech making, repetition of phrase, and shared identity:
We have four principles that will guide our new government.
We want a government that pays for performance. No more blank checks.
We want a government that actually gets results in real time.
We want a government that puts the people first and not the special interests first.
We want a government that is an icon for integrity where New Yorkers can be proud of their government once again.

One phrase in particular caught my attention: “New York has no future as the tax capitol of this nation.

He ended his speech with great energy, and - this demonstrates the problems with power point – concluded in rousing fashion, speaking directly to the audience, looking directly at them, instead of turning to look at a projection screen. His energy seemed to rally the crowd, and that is usually the point of a concluding paragraph:
Let this 234th legislature stand up and write a new page in the history book of New York State government. Let this 234th legislature solve these problems at a time of crisis and bring this state to a place that it’s never been. We’re not just going to build back we’re going to build back bigger stronger than ever before. That’s what we’re going to do together. Thank you and God bless you.

If the point was – “It’s time to take a new direction” – it certainly came across.
Length (words): 5448
Text Posted: Albany Times Union

From The Bully Pulpit: - Tom

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