This Wednesday, October 17th, Herman Cain stopped in State College, PA at the State Theater while on his “College Truth Tour.” This tour consists of dozens of stops at colleges all over the country and focuses on “the state of the student”. More background information on the tour itself can be found on the tour’s website, but I want to get in on what he spoke about on Wednesday. I will first talk about the content of his speech, then talk about the effectiveness of his delivery and argument.
Even though the tour itself is advertised as aimed for the college student audience, I would say at least a third of the people in attendance were older, middle-aged or even senior, citizens. This probably has something to do with the fact that most young people are democrats while older people tend to be more republican. This was not a problem though, because his speech really wasn’t targeted at just anyone that wants to improve their future.
He started off talking about the American dream, and what the dream should consist of. He used himself throughout the first portion of his speech as an example of someone who has lived the American dream. Having a father who worked three jobs, and only being able to afford school lunch one day of the week, he spoke of how he came from a poor background. Then he talked about what it means to be successful and how you can get yourself there. He had three main points on success:
1. Success is a journey and not an endpoint. This simply meant that there is a difference between achieving small goals and achieving success.
2. Having no goals is far more detrimental to a person’s life than having unachieved goals. This was more insightful than the first point and I thought interesting. He spoke of how his first goal out of college was to make $20k a year. He worked himself up the pay-grade scale of the navy and found himself a job that paid just that. What I thought was the most important point in this part of his speech was that success is whatever you want it to be, but you need to set goals on your way there. After landing a $20k a year job, he decided he wanted another job and be the Vice President of something then President, and so on. (which he ended up achieving it all).
3. Success is a zig-zag process. This is pretty self-explanatory in that you will hit problems on your way to success.
The first portion of the speech as explained above was almost like a speech on how to better your life from a motivational speaker. The second part, however, is where it got political. Cain shifts from talking about what makes success to what can get in the way of success. In short, his answer was the current government and he offers three specifics of what will get in the way of the graduating student’s success.
1. The current tax code. Cain suggests that the current tax code is far too complicated and is not concrete, which hurts small businesses. Small businesses, including the businesses of the thousands of owners Cain has talked to, are afraid to expand their businesses because they are unsure of what the government may change about taxes. He suggests the tax code needs to be completely rewritten and simplified into either just a flat income tax, a standard national sales tax, or his trademark 9-9-9 plan (which he went into very little detail about). Cain said that simplifying the tax code will help us “grow, not spend, our way to prosperity”.
2. Energy dependence of the U.S. on oil countries. Cain briefly hit on this point and spoke about how the dependence of the U.S. on other countries for energy hurts our economy and we would be better off with opening up our own resources. He didn’t provide much details on how or why, but did also say that we would be “screwed” in a global military conflict with our oil countries because we would run out of energy. An interesting point that I wasn’t sure was relevant at all to becoming successful in life.
3. SPENDING. His most important argument of the night was that “what is happening in Washington is insane” in that we are spending way too much money. Probably his most profound quote of the night (and in my biased opinion, my favorite) was in reference to entitlement programs of the federal government, “If you don’t put any money into it, you aren’t entitled to anything“. The whole audience clapped at this point, and Cain went into the details. Simply put, he thinks lowering the tax rates and congress not spending money on things that the government shouldn’t (in his opinion) spend money on will fix all our problems.
At the end of his speech, Cain tells everyone to be an informed voter and to be a part of the solution. He finishes with a speech with a quote from the Pokemon movie: “Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It’s never easy when there’s so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There’s a mission just for you and me.”
So what can I say about his speech’s effectiveness? A lot. But I will bring it to a few main points I took notice of.
Herman Cain is a great public speaker. Regardless of your political affiliation or your opinion of Cain, it is obvious that he has public speaking down pretty good. He always looked at the audience. He spoke will emotion as if the speech was not rehearsed and candid. And his body language perfectly portrayed his emotional state in the speech. I believe that this public speaking ability is the only reason he did so well in the Republican primary race. He was able to debate so well, that everyone forgot that he was just a business man and had no real qualifications to be lead the U.S. military and our country. Its this natural speaking ability of his that really builds his ethos of his argument and makes him effective.
Herman Cain is also very funny. A couple things that made me laugh:
- He wanted a job that paid $20k a year because an American Express card required you to earn at least $10k a year and he wanted two
- In order to be VP of all the Burger Kings in the Philly region, he had to work in a store making food and running the register for a day
- When he got off the plane in Nebraska to take over Godfather’s Pizza company, he looked around and said, “There are no black people in Nebraska. What the hell is this?”
- If he were president, he would get congress to stop spending by sending them a one page memo simply saying “STOP”
- “Stupid people are ruining America. Don’t be a stupid voter.”
- He ended with a Pokemon quote. Pokemon.
All kidding aside, his humor really helps him relate to his audience and build his ethos. Which brings me to my last praise of his speech: He really knew his audience. Never throughout the whole night did I feel that he was talking down to me as if he was more successful than I. Nor did I feel intimidated by any of the speech. He kept his points very simple and spoke as if full of reason, making his delivery of his speech more effective.
One thing I didn’t care for about his speech was his huge lack of logos in his propositions on how to fix the economy. He mentioned his 9-9-9 plan, but didn’t say what it entails. He said we need to become more energy independent, but didn’t say how or why. He said we need to stop spending, but gave no suggestions on what to stop spending on and how much.
All together, I felt like a speech with not much sustenance to it, was delivered very well and still had some valid points. He could have been way more specific on how to fix the economy and how to get students back in jobs, but he didn’t. What he did do is use his cultured public speaking skills to convince his audience that they want to be successful in life, but they can’t with the current government operating as it is. The points he made were not really challenged because of his incredible ethos. But with a little more insightful critique, Cain just offered a need for certain results, but no actions or path to achieve those results.