I don’t live, breathe and eat politics like someone I could name whose desk is within spitball range of mine, but I do enjoy the national conventions and I especially like the oratory.
The speakers who are able to get a crowd on its feet and audibly responding — like those mesmerized by a tent evangelist — are among my favorites.
In 1984, when then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo delivered the keynote at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, I was on vacation in a little cabin in the Adirondacks, but I managed to hear his speech on a scratchy old radio. I had to take it out on the porch to get good enough reception.
It was Cuomo’s eloquent rebuke of President Reagan who had described his vision of America as a “shining city on the hill.”
Cuomo called his address “a tale of two cities,” and lamented that in Reagan’s shining city, “There are people who sleep in the gutter where the glitter doesn’t show.”
It was a masterful speech, portraying the president as out of touch with the real world. “There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces you do not see and the places you do not visit in your shining city.”
To my mind it was brilliant but, in the end, it had no noticeable effect on the election.
Reagan gave Democrat Walter Mondale a painful drubbing, carrying 49 of 50 states (the second presidential candidate to do so. Richard Nixon did it first in 1972.)
Their effectiveness aside, I remain impressed by great speechmaking and by the phrases that have enough originality and color to live beyond the moment.
We were listening to the speakers at the DNC in Charlotte last week when my wife observed that the Democrats surely like the phrase “middle class.” I agreed, and then began listening more carefully for other buzz words that might be popular this year.
The next day I discovered The New York Times was similarly enthralled by what it called “the words they use.” On its website, the Times offered a program where you could type in a word or phrase and it would tell you how often Republican speakers had used it and how often the Democrats.
What a splendid idea.
I promptly typed in “America” and found it was invoked 111 times per 25,000 words by the Democrats and 138 times per 25,000 by the Republicans.
“Afghanistan” was used 5.5 times per 25,000 by the Democrats and 1.5 times per 25,000 by the Republicans. (All the figures that follow are per 25,000 words)
The word “abortion” came up 0.5 times in Democratic utterances and not at all in Republican remarks.
I wondered about “women’s rights,” and found the Democrats mentioned it 1.8 times and the Republicans not at all.
“Gay” was 1.3 per 25,000 to 0, Democrats to Republicans.
Does anyone talk about “communism” anymore? Indeed. The Republicans mentioned it 0.7 times to zero for the Democrats. (Republicans who spoke the “C” word included Condoleeza Rice, the former secretary of state, and Ted Cruz, who’s running for U.S. Senate from Texas.)
The word “rape” came up 2.4 times per 25,000 in Democrat speeches and not at all in Republican speeches. Similarly, “birth control” was 3.2 Democrats to zero Republicans.
Democrats mentioned “war” 19 times and Republicans, 9.5 times per.
Democrats mentioned “Lincoln” more often than did Republicans, but Republicans mentioned “Reagan” 10 times as often as Democrats.
What about “church”? The tally was 0.8 for Democrats, 8.7 for Republicans.
On the word “tax,” the parties were about neck and neck.
“Voter ID,” which has been a hot button item, was mentioned only 0.3 times by Democrats and not at all by Republicans.
“Economy” was uttered by Democrats 53 times and by Republicans 41 times.
“Unemployment,” on the other hand, came up 1.3 times with the Democrats and 17 times among Republicans.
And what of the “middle class”? Democratic speakers said the words l47 times, and Republicans 6.9 times per 25,000 words.
The Democrats did not mention “apple pie,” but they did refer to “baseball” at the rate of 0.3 times per 25,000, while Republicans mentioned “apple pie” 0.4 times per 25,000, about the same rate as they invoked our favorite pastime.
Irv Dean is the Gazette’s city editor. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper. Reach him at P.O. Box 1090, Schenectady, N.Y. 12301 or by email to [email protected]