Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democratic National Convention Speeches... Yawn

Is anyone else finding the Democratic National Convention to be rather lukewarm? I haven't heard a single speech yet that inspires me. Just a bunch of Horatio Alger stories and very, very safe comments, even from Dennis Kucinich. It's becoming a bit hard to remain interested.

I love a powerful speech, one that is stirring and challenging. I tried to remember back to the last speech of that nature I heard from a politician.

As always, I come back to Mario Cuomo and his keynote speech to the DNC in 1984. I've linked it here so that you can either listen to it or read it, whichever you choose. I really encourage you to take the time to listen. Get a cup of something and give it ten or fifteen minutes.

But if you can't, I offer this excerpt. Read it. Seriously. You'll like it! This is a speech that is just as applicable today as it was in 1984.

On behalf of the great Empire State and the whole family of New York, let me thank you for the great privilege of being able to address this convention. Please allow me to skip the stories and the poetry and the temptation to deal in nice but vague rhetoric. Let me instead use this valuable opportunity to deal immediately with the questions that should determine this election and that we all know are vital to the American people.

Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. The President said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill." And the President is right. In many ways we are a shining city on a hill.

But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.

In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city.


Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use.

Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President. But I'm afraid not. Because the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, that this is how we were warned it would be. President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. "Government can't do everything," we were told, so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest. Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.

You know, the Republicans called it "trickle-down" when Hoover tried it. Now they call it "supply side." But it's the same shining city for those relative few who are lucky enough to live in its good neighborhoods. But for the people who are excluded, for the people who are locked out, all they can do is stare from a distance at that city's glimmering towers.


We Democrats believe in something else. We democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees -- wagon train after wagon train -- to new frontiers of education, housing, peace; the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way; blacks and Hispanics, and people of every ethnic group, and native Americans -- all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America. For nearly 50 years we carried them all to new levels of comfort, and security, and dignity, even affluence. And remember this, some of us in this room today are here only because this nation had that kind of confidence. And it would be wrong to forget that.

So, here we are at this convention to remind ourselves where we come from and to claim the future for ourselves and for our children. Today our great Democratic Party, which has saved this nation from depression, from fascism, from racism, from corruption, is called upon to do it again -- this time to save the nation from confusion and division, from the threat of eventual fiscal disaster, and most of all from the fear of a nuclear holocaust.

That's not going to be easy. Mo Udall is exactly right -- it won't be easy. And in order to succeed, we must answer our opponent's polished and appealing rhetoric with a more telling reasonableness and rationality.

We must win this case on the merits. We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do it not so much with speeches that sound good as with speeches that are good and sound; not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as with speeches that will bring people to their senses. We must make -- We must make the American people hear our "Tale of Two Cities." We must convince them that we don't have to settle for two cities, that we can have one city, indivisible, shining for all of its people.


We speak -- We speak for young people demanding an education and a future. We speak for senior citizens. We speak for senior citizens who are terrorized by the idea that their only security, their Social Security, is being threatened. We speak for millions of reasoning people fighting to preserve our environment from greed and from stupidity. And we speak for reasonable people who are fighting to preserve our very existence from a macho intransigence that refuses to make intelligent attempts to discuss the possibility of nuclear holocaust with our enemy. They refuse. They refuse, because they believe we can pile missiles so high that they will pierce the clouds and the sight of them will frighten our enemies into submission.

We -- We must ask ourselves what kind of court and country will be fashioned by the man who believes in having government mandate people's religion and morality; the man who believes that trees pollute the environment; the man that believes that -- that the laws against discrimination against people go too far; a man who threatens Social Security and Medicaid and help for the disabled. How high will we pile the missiles? How much deeper will the gulf be between us and our enemies? And, ladies and gentlemen, will four years more make meaner the spirit of the American people? This election will measure the record of the past four years. But more than that, it will answer the question of what kind of people we want to be.

We Democrats still have a dream. We still believe in this nation's future. And this is our answer to the question. This is our credo:

We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need.

We believe in a government that is characterized by fairness and reasonableness, a reasonableness that goes beyond labels, that doesn't distort or promise to do things that we know we can't do.

We believe in a government strong enough to use words like "love" and "compassion" and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.

We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.

We -- Our -- Our government -- Our government should be able to rise to the level where it can fill the gaps that are left by chance or by a wisdom we don't fully understand. We would rather have laws written by the patron of this great city, the man called the "world's most sincere Democrat," St. Francis of Assisi, than laws written by Darwin.

We believe -- We believe as Democrats, that a society as blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world's history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction, ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute. And we proclaim as loudly as we can the utter insanity of nuclear proliferation and the need for a nuclear freeze, if only to affirm the simple truth that peace is better than war because life is better than death.

We believe in firm -- We believe in firm but fair law and order.

We believe proudly in the union movement.

We believe in a -- We believe -- We believe in privacy for people, openness by government.

We believe in civil rights, and we believe in human rights.

We believe in a single -- We believe in a single fundamental idea that describes better than most textbooks and any speech that I could write what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings -- reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.

We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another, that the problems of a retired school teacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child -- that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our struggle; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.


That struggle to live with dignity is the real story of the shining city. And it's a story, ladies and gentlemen, that I didn't read in a book, or learn in a classroom. I saw it and lived it, like many of you. I watched a small man with thick calluses on both his hands work 15 and 16 hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example. I learned about our kind of democracy from my father. And I learned about our obligation to each other from him and from my mother. They asked only for a chance to work and to make the world better for their children, and they -- they asked to be protected in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves. This nation and this nation's government did that for them.

Now, it will happen. It will happen if we make it happen; if you and I make it happen. And I ask you now, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, for the good of all of us, for the love of this great nation, for the family of America, for the love of God: Please, make this nation remember how futures are built.

Thank you and God bless you.



Fran said...

Oh my- this is an amazing post... tears are running down my face. I am going to link to this.

I loved that speech then- I love that speech now. Mario Cuomo is a personal hero of mine.

Last night I must say I loved seeing Ted Kennedy and I was very moved by that and I also liked Michelle Obama.

But there was nothing like this.

Thank you!

S said...

I think that I already knew that you and I shared the Cuomo love.

Mario Cuomo is an inspiring, intelligent leader. It's just too bad that he's also too smart to want to be President. :(

Diane M. Roth said...

I do like Mario Cuomo, and this speech is awe-inspiring.

I read a speech or essay by him once on the proper use of faith in politics, and I also thought it was very insightful. Also thought Obama must have read it; he clearly borrowed at least one of its ideas.

thanks for posting and reminding what a great speech can be.

Anonymous said...

I thought Hillary Clinton did a great job of explaining what needs to be done. She has, as far as I'm concerned, more than acquitted herself. The idiot PUMA-bots are largely led by RNC-planted stooges anyway, and what can we say about people who are that stupid?

hele said...

Al the time while I was reading I kept on wondering how someone like Bush made it into the Whitehouse.

And then I remember. He cheated his way in.

Woman in a Window said...

If only...

and it still surprises me the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats. Two completely seperate breeds. Mind boggling really.

Defiantmuse said...

that was a great speech. Thanks for sharing.

I'm so disenfranchised with American politics right now. Blaaaahhhh........

I keep holding true to my hope for a revolution without blood in the streets though I'm not sure it's possible. Or even if it is I doubt it will come about in my lifetime.

Jen said...

I love Mario Cuomo. I remember that speech.

The darned thing is that no one can make that kind of speech right now because FDR has become a dirty reference, so to speak.

It's so hard for any politician to really hit hard and strong for what THEY believe in. I felt Obama was doing that at the outset and I hope he'll return to that.

I did enjoy Michelle Obama's speech. Yes, it was Horatio Alger, but I think we may need some of that right now. And I loved Ted Kennedy's spirit. It was remarkable for him to appear. I hope he gets to see Obama inaugurated.

I agree, though, that there's no one taking the reins in the way that Cuomo did here.

molly said...

Wow! That could have been written yesterday.......Is it unreasonable to hope that the people who get elected in November might think like this?

Amy Y said...

Au contraire ~ I've heard some great speeches... But this is my first DNC so perhaps my bar was set too low?
I loved Caroline Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Michelle (probably my favorite) and her brother, Hillary, Bill Clinton and Kerry. Most of the other ones I didn't pay much attention to. I can't WAIT for tonight! I had a ticket to go but didn't think my 33 week preggo belly had any place in a crowd of 70,000. I think I'll be much more comfortable at home. I hope I don't regret it...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It was wonderful to reread this glorious speech which was really a blueprint of how a nation should be, and you are right - it is just as applicable today as in 1984.

There were too many stirring and sensible passages to cite, but Cuomo set the bar very high, higher than anyone has measured up to since.

What is amazing is when someone so intelligent and right-minded becomes a politician at all. I think that Obama has those capabilities and hope that he won't compromise them too much in the years ahead because those are the very values we desperately need to heal America, and all the parts of the world we touch. I hope that we will begin to touch them in the spirit of community and not destruction.

Olivia said...

A powerful and inspiring speech indeed. There is greatness and compassion and honesty and inspiration here in the US...sometimes we just have to look for it.

In my current personal crisis, there were many people (including you, Chani!) who reached out to me. Another was a family of an employee who had fled an oppressive regime in Europe. The freedom and the opportunity here in the US allows some to shine sometimes---maybe it is all the more precious because it is so rare. I see light, love, hope, and brilliance in this speech.

Thank you and love,


niobe said...

You know, I think I actually remember hearing this speech at the time. Wonderful to see it again.