Monday, October 15, 2012


Okay, it's in Nick Paumgarten's Talk of the Town piece in this week's New Yorker, but I'm going to get to it tomorrow. Because this is my blog, and it's important to keep everybody in suspense.

Until those thoughts, then, I give you this:

The Writing Center at Hunter College plucks its speakers from many paths of life. Tonight Daniel Rose, of Rose Associates, delivered the Jack Burstyn Memorial Lecture on the subject of the art of public speaking.

Though the dapper Mr. Rose, standing at a wooden podium, had something to say about Martin Luther King’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and held forth about the importance of ethos, logos, pathos and that non-os, decorum, he really had a lot more to say about the first debate. 

On Mitt Romney’s performance: “His crisp, authoritative manner and his eye contact with the audience did much to overcome the weaknesses of his argument, which was disgraceful.”  The argument, that is, was disgraceful.

Twice Mr. Rose quoted verbatim, much to his own consternation, the responses of David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign adviser, as to how and why Obama was so unprepared. Rather than repeat Mr. Axelrod’s tepid and clueless remarks (honestly, hearing them made me wonder if he's being secretly paid by the Romney campaign), I share with you Mr. Rose’s opening and closing statements for our President.

Mr. Obama’s opening statement should have been: “Mr. Romney cares about some of us; I care about all of us.”

Mr. Obama’s closing statement should have been: “We have started the recovery from the disaster we inherited, and with your help and with your support [Mr. Rose, his hand pumping, shouting -- from his diaphragm -- projecting past the back wall of the room], we will finish it.”

Bonus advice: What Michelle Obama should have said -- not whatever "I love my husband" thing she said, but: “My husband looks calm, but he spends sleepless night worrying about military casualties in Afghanistan, about students who can’t pay their student loans, about people who don’t have health insurance.”

And why—why, why, why?—Mr. Rose wondered, his fingers touching his temples, why didn’t Mr. Obama mention that he kept the automobile industry alive? Who are these ninkempoop advisers?, he seemed to be saying. Why aren’t they doing a better job of appealing to the heads of 50 per cent of the American populations and the hearts of the other 50 per cent?

This is not the time to be unprepared on national television. Not while the Koch brothers are slinking to state after state using their money to elect Neanderthal judges – yes, buying their way into the laws of states that could use the extra money. Not while people (the high IQ people and the low IQ people? Difficult to say) are fixated on and paralyzed by this image of “the cliff” we’re going to fall over come December 31.

And how come doesn't the President better distinguish between expenditures for consumption and expenditures for investment (i.e., infrastructure, education, and scientific research)?

And why is Obama failing to push, to embarrass, to attack Congress?

And what about a VAT tax? We are, said Mr. Rose, the only developed country without one. What gives?

And elected officials should wear the names of their biggest donors across their backs, so it’s evident whom they work for.

By the end of the presentation, I wanted to put Mr. Rose (a winner of national Cicero Speechwriting awards, according to his online c.v.), on the next plane to Mr. Obama’s side. Instead I asked him about the future of the Chrysler building and Midtown, recently reported by Charlie Bagli in the New York Times. What does Mr. Rose think about the Chrysler Building? There it was, I indicated, off to the left of the glass windows.

“Forget single buildings,” was Mr. Rose’s final word on the subject.

Before that he waxed about the ecological, fewer-cars future of high-density life that will become the norm in this and other cities. “High-density relationships are going to be the model of the future,” he said, adding that there are people who believe "the denser the city, the more vital, creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative.” Also: mass transit. Mass transit, mass transit, mass transit.

Hm. I think about the Chrysler Building, quite a bit. The Chrysler and the Empire State, and their place in the skyline. I look at the Chrysler Building and the Empire State, and I think of men and women like Mr. Rose, and to me it's just fine and dandy that they stand out and above others. If the Chrysler becomes just another building crammed up against or obscured by other buildings, then that is just one more nail in the coffin of Manhattan. (Maybe we’re dead anyway. Jay McInerney, in an 1980s introduction to a book of photographs, wrote, if memory serves correctly, that New York was almost dead, or was rapidly expiring—it was already gone, essentially.)

When I’m downtown and look up Lexington Avenue and see the Chrysler, or am in Chelsea and look up and see the Empire State, they are two North Stars. Nantucket has its building height rules. So does Paris. I’m all for the future of New York (some days), but not a future that fouls up its compass.

I don’t think I’m ready to forget single buildings, and it’s unlikely I’ll be ready to do so any time soon.

It’s also unlikely I’ll forget Mr. Rose. His navy tie had little yellow icons of construction trucks and excavators, and afterwards he stood with members of the audience near the buffet of food from Butterfield Market and munched on cocktail franks and conversed. Mensch.

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