Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rhetoric on Rhetoric

Nobody gives a good speech anymore. Nobody addresses the broad challenges of the times. Nobody tries to inspire people. Today’s rhetoric is all about moving swing votes in elections, which in the US seems to be getting more and more polarized and trivial.
It’s not just that nobody gives a good speech anymore; it’s that nobody tries. Think about it: When was the last time somebody in public life in New York stood up to give an important speech?
The person I’d really like to see try is Andrew Cuomo. I am absolutely convinced that he could do it, and do it well, but he seems to have avoided anything resembling a policy address. The only possible exception came four days into his administration when he delivered his State of the State remarks. Remember? He skipped out of the Assembly Chamber, and did it in the convention center. The tone was quite unusual. He had video props that included caricatures of himself and the other leaders as ships passing in the night.
One reason Cuomo might shy away from traditional speechmaking is probably because of the incessant comparisons to his father. That has to be annoying for him. And perhaps in the back of his mind, he’s thinking that it’s better to get results than to make speeches. I agree, but I still can’t help thinking that he could and should do more.
For example, he could explain the new Cuomo-ism, which is anything but the policy approach of his father.
He could lay out a plan and strategy for dealing with the economy. “Jobs, jobs, jobs” was supposed to be the focus, but, recently, the administration has been spinning the line that the states can’t do anything about the economy; it’s all about national trends. By that reasoning, we shouldn’t care about education because it’s all about the example set by parents.
He could address the whole Wall Street thing. Some 82 countries are now protesting (in a sense) New York and New Yorkers. Shouldn’t someone come to our defense? Why not our most prominent and articulate native son?
There’s actually any number of topics for the governor to chose, including ethics. And it’s not like the governor is the only articulate leader we have. Other statewide elected officials have become even less visible than Cuomo. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman comes to mind. He’s a sharp and well-spoken person. He was never shy as a state senator, but he’s been invisible as AG.
I’d also include Speaker Silver in the category of people who should speak out more often. I know people don’t often think of him as an orator, but over the last several political cycles, he’s been the one with the clearest and most consistent political philosophy. I want to hear his reasoned views and I think others do as well.
I guess what I’m arguing for – and giving something of a speech to propose – is that New York again be a place where rhetoric, in the highest sense of the word, is respected and encouraged. 

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