The Rhetoric of Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2014 Final State of the State Address
–Richard E. Vatz
About Gov. Martin O’Malley’s final State of the State address, a few observations about its persuasive strategies from a professor who has taught a course called Persuasion for decades:
1. Like all “State of” speeches, Governor O’Malley’s State of the State (SOS) address was like the allegory of the blind men describing the elephant: what is covered is selective, and the interpretations are one-sided. This does not make it an unusual or bad such address, but without hearing the opposite side — and few will pay a lot of attention to Senator David R. Brinkley’s response – one cannot look at it as anything but a rose-colored perspective of the state of the State.
2. Gov. O’Malley talks about raising the minimum wage but makes no reference to the possible effects on business, unemployment, cutting of hours of full-time employees, etc. It seems for the State of the State that there are no downsides.
3. Gov. O’Malley makes no mention of the unsustainability of state pensions.
4. Gov. O’Malley makes no mention of the 40+ increases (almost $10 billion) in state taxes or the $10 billion increase in the state budget or the dependency of Maryland on federal jobs, all referenced by Sen. Brinkley in his response.
5. Gov. O’Malley notes that violent crime is down, but makes no mention of the horrendous murder rate that continues unabated. This is yet another example of selective fact-citing.
6. Gov. O’Malley lavishes praise on the prospect of healthcare availability to those previously without it and concedes, in perhaps the only such concession in the speech, that “the healthcare website failed to perform as designed when it was launched.” There is no mention of the problems and costs that government-created health care have — and will have — created for employers and those already insured, not to mention the delivery of such services.
7. None of the foregoing points makes the SOS address uniquely deceptive; all leaders emphasize the facts that redound to their favor and spin them outrageously one-sidedly. Look at any State of the Union, and you will find the same rhetorical strategies.
8. One stylistic outrage: it is arguably at least highly inappropriate to cite Henry Ford positively as a model of Americanism – perspicacious and worker-friendly — in a public speech, as he was one of the most ardent and contemptible and powerful anti-Semites of the 20thcentury. If one of the Governor’s aides sneaked this into the speech, the aide should be severely reprimanded.
9. I did like Gov. O’Malley’s praise for his wife, my former (excellent) student at Towson. She is indeed exceptional.
Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2013)