Rhetorical Analysis of Mario Cuomo S 1984 Democratic National Conventional Address

Rhetorical Analysis of Mario Cuomo S 1984 Democratic National Conventional Address

Moulton 1

Natalia Moulton

PAF 9199

August 16, 2015

Rhetorical Analysis of Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Democratic National Conventional Address

Mario Cuomo most famous 1984 Democratic National Conventional speech in San Francisco, was a responseto President Reagan’s statement, that some Americans seemed to be doing well, but others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. He went on to say that he didn’t understand the fear because our country is ”a shining city on a hill.”Cuomo took the opportunity to reflect on the individuals who were struggling and knew nothing of this shining city. He noted that the president, of course had a different experience from the general public and implied that Reagan was not being sensitive to those differences. Middle class people were facing difficult times and children lacked the education they desired due to the inability to afford it. Most importantly he educated the president, by informing him about the existence of the “Tale of Two Cities” in our nation. Cuomo slaughtered President Reagan in this speech, especially when he mentioned his inability to see the abundance of people in distress all across the nation. From people living in sheds to the ones living in shelters. According to Cuomo, Reagan believed in helping those who could help themselves and did little to assist the middle class. His approach promotedthe idea where the rich supported the rich, leaving the poor to fend for themselves, and the middle class supposedly getting the trickle-down effect. Though it is evident that the middle class citizens are the ones that bears the burdens of the economy, while the poor remains poorer.Cuomo believed that the Democrats were the key ingredient that the nation needed in order to unite, he wanted to lead by example. He also credited the party for being the most acceptable of different cultures, classes, and orientation. He displayed the differences between each party and their inability to be honest with the American people. Cuomo highlighted a Democratic party that is more effective, efficient and shaping the future of the American people. He believed that a government should satisfy the demands of the people and have great compassion and love for the citizens of which they serve. Like many other administrations, he also wanted transparency, fairness, and honesty. He reflected on pass Democratic presidents who had the right concept and vision, to emphasize the success of the party. He closed the speech with a personal attribute to his parents who wanted the opportunity to create even better opportunities for their families.


The speech was filled with passion, he even seemed a bit combative, at the same time it was powerful, and intriguing. The content was rich and informative, it felt as if he was educating Reagan and his administration about the way many people were living, and exposed him to a different side of society. The most outstanding thing about the speech is the speaker’s dauntless ability to speak his mind and be a little controversial. This speech is important because it is bold, it challenges the status quo, not to mention that it is insightful and has the ability to grab one’s attention. This paper will reflect a rhetorical analysis and ….

Mario Cuomo's address did more to promote a political reputation than had any oratory since William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech in 1896. Speaking, at the very peak of Reaganism about the societal and family values that were at the heart of the Democratic Party, Cuomo brought tears to the eyes of even cynical politicians. His early political ventures were unsuccessful. Particularly galling was his 1977 loss to Edward Koch in the New York City mayoral race. Were it not for his competitive nature and his desire to serve, this defeat might have marked the end of his political career. But in the 1982 election for governor, Cuomo overcame the heavily favored Koch to win (onesearch.cunyedu).


Cuomo’s parents were Catholic Italian immigrants who owned their own business and worked hard to accomplish their dreams. This contributed to his drive and passion that he had for the less fortunate. He studied law at St John's University and graduated in 1956. His journey into politics was not planned and occurred when Mayor John Lindsay asked him in 1972 to help with a dispute about the construction of public housing. In 1974 he ran for Lieutenant-Governor and in 1977 he ran for Mayor of New York City, both of which he lost. By 1978 he assumed the role of Lieutenant, which catapulted his political career (Business Insights). Cuomo was elected Governor in 1982 and maintained that position for three terms. While in office, he increased the budget for education and social welfare. He opposed the death penalty and was pro-choice for abortion despite his religious affiliation. During his second term as mayor he experienced a downward shift in the economy, yet regardless of this issue he was still considered a strong presidential prospect (onesearch.cuny.edu). As stated above, Cuomo was responding to then President Ronald Reagan’s policies and his remark about America being “a shining city on a hill.” Cuomo was perplexed about Reagan’s comment, this would lend to the greatest speech that Cuomo ever delivered. He had the assistance of speech writer Tom Quinn from 1983 to 1985, (Albany.edu). Quinn compared his work to a “law clerk who does research and serves as a sounding board.” Cuomo was a stickler for presenting his own speeches, he did not want to deliver anything that was not his words or close to his words. He noted that all of his major speeches reflected this. The public’s response to the address was positive, and critics thought that it was rousing and powerful, the speech gained its momentum in the pressand he was considered a leading contender to the Democratic presidential nomination. He was nicknamed Hamlet on Hudson due to his public agony on whether or not he should run for president (foxnews.com). Eventually he decided not to run.

There were many important terminologies and phrases imbedded in this speech, for instance when Cuomo stated that “[t]he Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. " This was instrumental to the speech as became a platform that the governor build on throughout the speech to present the lack of unity, fairness, compassion, and logics of the Republican Party. When he mentioned “here we are at this convention to remind ourselves where we come from and to claim the future for ourselves and for our children,” he spoke on behalf of the people that were oppressed and did not have the opportunity to represent themselves. He used must unite to further expose his vision for the people, this is used in many inaugural speeches as well as city and state addresses for similar reasons. Another sentence that speaks volume is when he said “I was going to say, and I perhaps dare not but I will. It's a commandment so simple it can be spelled in three letters: E.R.A.” E.R.A is the equal rights amendment that was created in 1923, which states that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex (equalrightsamendment.org).

There were many references in the address, including his allusion to Mo Udall when he wrote… our great Democratic Party… is called upon to do it again -- this time to save the nation from confusion and division… that's not going to be easy. Mo Udall is exactly right -- it won't be easy. Mo Udall was a democratic congressman, and is referred to as one of the most creative and productive legislators of the century (librabry.arizona.edu). He even alluded toAnn Gorsuch Burford was an Environmental protection Agency director who was involved in a huge scandal in 1983 during the Reagan administration. There was a mismanagement $1.6 billion program to clean up hazardous waste dump (Sullivan 2004). In addition he mentioned the G.I Bill of Rights or the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The act was created to help the nation reabsorb millions of veterans returning from overseas who had been fighting in World War II (education.stateuniversity.com).


The speech is structured in a narrative form, with a touch of topical and pro-con division. He told a few stories, the most intriguing one was about his parents. It is also pro-con division given that his argument is geared towards his disapproval of Reagan’s policies. The structure assist the speech in allowing the audience to follow more efficient. It is a fairly long speech, therefore in order to keep the audience’s attention the speech has to be interesting, relatable, and relevant to the people, this speech includes all of the above. Also, individuals remember stories, therefore it is always beneficial to use a narrative style, regardless if it is just for a miniscule period. The characteristics of the speech flows well with the arrangement. Insofar that, the pitch was appropriate. He adjusted his tone and pitch whenever necessary, especially when the audience became excited. He paused whenever necessary to ensure that he is heard, as well to capture the audience’s attention. Lastly, the rate of the speech also coincided with the arrangement, this shows that the speaker was well prepared and confident about his content.


There is a mixture of language in this address, from elevated to plain. Some areas utilize abstract language that is not very clear to the audience. He used rhetorical figure anaphora throughout the speech and especially when he said “maybe maybe Mr. President, shining city, we must, we Democrats” and plenty others to make his argument. He added we believe towards to the end of the speech to showcase the ideas of the Democrat and demonstrate how much they differ from the republicans. The language of the speech is what resonates with people and create the effect that it still has today. The language is naked, important and necessary, it is the kind of language that is not spoken about enough by politicians. It allows individuals the time to reflect on certain aspects of our nation that is often avoided or ignored.

Media Treatment

I don’t think the media coverage of the address changed its meaning, it may have boosted the society’s interest and causedindividuals to become interested in the speech. The speech was well received and was well beneficial to Cuomo given that it thrust him into the spotlight even further. The element of the speech that is the most popular is the beginning, where Cuomo is addressing the president. This area is where the speaker shines the most, it showed a different side of Cuomo, one that is not afraid to take risk.

Agenda Setting

The speech brought many issues to the forefront, the most important and detailed one was the lack of trust that civilians had towards their government and the incorrect views that Reagan’s administration displayed in regards to the nation. He believed that even the less glorious cities deserved attention, and resented Reagan for misrepresenting the people. According to Nagourney, 2015 the speech was the high-water mark of his national political career, making him in many ways a more admired figure outside his state than in it. He went on to say that Cuomo wasa tenacious, spellbinding speaker and a fierce debater. This can account to his success with this speech, it shows his competency and his extraordinary skills as a speaker. Cuomo stuck to the issues that he had and displayed them for the rule to see because he shared in the dream of Martin Luther King, when he claimed “we Democrats still have a dream. We still believe in this nation's future.” His background contributed to his ideologies and shaped him to be a man who understood the hardships that life offers and the sacrifices that has to be made at times in order to attain certain opportunities.

Additional Reading

Works Cited

CUOMO, MARIO." (2014). n.p. Web. 13 Aug . 2015.


G.I. Bill of Rights. n.p. n.d.

Rights.html. Web. 19 August 2015

Mario Cuomo, former New York governor, dies. 2 January 2015. n.p. foxnews.com. Web. 13

August 2015.

"Mario Cuomo." Independent [London, E,ngland] 3 Jan. 2015: 36.n.p. Business Insights:

Essentials. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

Morris K. Udall – A Lifetime of Service to Arizona and the United States.n.p. n.d.

Library.arizona.edu. Web. 13 August 2015.

Nagourney, Adam. 1 January 2015. Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon,

Dies at 82.

governor-and-liberal-beacon-dies-at-82.html?_r=1&referrer=. Web. 13 August 2015.

Sullivan, Patricia. 22 July 2004. Anne Gorsuch Burford, 62, Dies; Reagan EPA Director.

Web. 18 August 2015.

The Equal Rights Amendment. n.p. n.d. equalrightsamendment.org. Web. 15 August 2015.