Friday, January 22, 2010

Deval's Brilliant Evening

You don't have to like the state of our commonwealth to admire last evening's state of the commonwealth speech. Gov. Deval Patrick was masterful in delivery of a brilliantly crafted, it was clearly his first re-election campaign offering.

We now know what to expect in the coming months from him, both as governor and as candidate. It promises to be a high-toned and fair discussion. He left in the areas of blunder and plunder, as well as praised himself were he could back it up. (He did sidestep corruption and cronyism though.) He framed the pending conflict. That will decidedly be to his benefit.

Pic note: This image is from his original campaign, when he was less gray, speaking to bloggers in the basement of Boston Latin.

His SOTC speech is beautifully, professionally constructed. It makes fine use of several rhetorical devices, notably epistrophe, the repetition of a word at the end of a sentence or clause. The underlying campaign aim clearly is to get people believing this guy has important work to finish for us and we have to make sure he gets to do that.

Yet, this is certainly not the jolliest of times in the old Bay State. As Barack Obama two years later, Patrick arrived in office with extreme hopes based on his extreme promises. Both also came in promising to achieve a heretofore unknown level of cooperation by lawmakers and bureaucrats to manifest these aspirations. In no small part, they have failed.

A big factor there is the horrific, abiding great recession. Here though, Patrick's administration wasted time in realizing promises for the recalcitrance of the General Court. Simply put, he couldn't get funds and enabling legislation. The old boys and girls demanded to keep their power. Stick it to the governor and people!

To his credit, Patrick reminded us of his sweeping promises as he began to speak:
  • "good jobs at good wages all across the state"
  • "a great school in every neighborhood"
  • "citizens with renewed sense of community...each of us (having a stake) in each other's dreams and struggles"
Also, he cited such realities when he took office as:
  • "Young people were leaving the state"
  • "no real plan for job growth"
  • "public schools...too often failing poor children"
  • "roads and bridges...broken"
  • passed, but unimplemented health are reform
  • Beacon Hill "famously resistant to outsiders and to change"
He danced around blame, saying "Our task was made harder by bumps along the road - some of my own making I acknowledge, others left behind by predecessors, but most the result of a global economic collapse that no one foresaw and few living have ever experienced." It may comfort us to pretend no one saw the recession coming, but not accurate. Moreover, we were particularly hit where we had not invested sufficiently in industries and infrastructure in the previous two decades. Our businesses were not strong enough and we had avoided sensible expenditures pandering to businesses and an electorate who loves to hear no taxes.

Regardless, the only serious shortcoming in this speech was his skating over the "some of my own making I acknowledge." Likely, Patrick did not want to give future challengers ammunition. I think he would have been smarter to frame his blunders first and clearly rather than leaving it for competitors to define his negatives.

Otherwise, we have a seamless piece returning to several themes. First on accomplishments and reasons for them:
  • Continuing to solve Massachusetts' problems in the face of misfortunes, "because we made it personal, because we understood that a better, stronger Commonwealth would lift us all up."
  • That generality was in the context of other generalities of "we in state government had to make do with less, to improvise and innovate, to work harder..." just like businesses and individuals (in it together, don't you know).
  • Producing a $9 billion-reduced budget on time and balanced for the third consecutive year. Forget that this was a requirement. Instead believe that the administration understood and addressed the impact "that each cut would have on the people who depended on the program." Thus,"(w)e made it personal."
And so it went, each with the "personal" punchline. Not only did he lead investment in industries for future job growth, but he and his folk called business leaders daily to drum up jobs. Of course, making it personal. With health care reform, they didn't stop at the law, but continue to work to browbeat insurance companies into reducing costs. As the new norm, making it personal.

In the middle of the speech, he listed seven categories of wonderful results implying we are headed back into sunshine and wealth. In the main, these are narrowly selected and time constrained. For example, more are moving back into the state. Businesses poll higher confidence (suggesting maybe more hiring). We kept our AA bond rating.

Of greater significance was his promise just before that list of not cutting school funding — at the state level. He didn't address whether school districts will have to slash their own contributions, thus undermining the promise of that good school in every neighborhood. Yet, level funding from the state is a wise decision.

He did more campaigning on those seven points. He even repeated that he would tell the public "what it means." Not surprisingly, the meanings were personal. He used examples of students who could afford to stay in college and funded construction that would bring more temporary and permanent jobs.

The other major theme was about his pending re-election though. He made clear Franklin Roosevelt don't-change-horses-in-midstream statements repeatedly. He set this up early by citing a struggling mother/grandmother and saying, "So for her, for every other striver who aches for a better, stronger Commonwealth, we kept faith with our vision and kept going."

That was a setup for his conclusion list following "I know there's much more work to do. And I will not be satisfied until it's done." Assuming his long, deep agenda will not be realized in the next 10 and one half months, this assumes his re-election.

After that, our steady workhorse would:
  • Tackle unemployment and not "be satisfied until we have put all our people back to work."
  • Fix high health insurance costs "especially for small businesses and working families."
  • Get "as smart on crime as we are tough" by enacting sentencing and CORI reform.
  • Finding "a way to bring property taxes down."
  • Apparently totally transforming state government, consolidating "more agencies and (wringing) out of them every inefficiency."
Of course, huge obstacles loom there, even if we keep riding that same horse named Deval. Property taxes, for one example, are no mystery. Do what the legislature has never had the courage to — ease the burden on home owners by making businesses pay a fair tax comparable to other states'. Most of those goals and his original hopes and promises require a level of cooperation from the General Court he has received only intermittently and halfheartedly. (Again mirrored in D.C.)

He closed with a nod to the Howard Beale character in Network (I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!") Patrick's more constructive call was, "Be angry - but channel it in a positive direction. It's easy to be against things. It takes tough-mindedness and courage to be for something." The implication, of course, is that our governor was already tough and brave, asking us to join him (and vote for him in November).

Unquestionably, we're in awful times. This speech didn't lie to us and did a bit to buoy us, keeping our vision ahead rather than self-pitying. It's real beauty though is that it spoke to the major components — grim and hopeful — while setting up the re-election bid. This is Oscar quality.

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Robin Edgar said...

"This is Oscar quality."

Does that mean it's just an *act*?

massmarrier said...

I should have expanded on that. Yes, he delivered it well. The construction was the thing though — Best Screenwriting?