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1984 DNC Keynote-Mario Cuomo
04-04-2014, 01:43 PM
Post: #1
1984 DNC Keynote-Mario Cuomo

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Mario Cuomo
1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address

Thank you very much.
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
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.
Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a "Tale of Two Cities" than it is just a
"Shining City on a Hill."
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, 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, 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 "trickledown"
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.
It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans
has always been measured in courage and confidence. The 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. "The strong," they tell us, "will inherit the
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
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.
Now, we will have no chance to do that if what comes out of this convention is a babel of
arguing voices. If that's what's heard throughout the campaign, dissident sounds from all
sides, we will have no chance to tell our message. To succeed we will have to surrender some
small parts of our individual interests, to build a platform that we can all stand on, at once,
and comfortably proudly
singing out. We need a platform we can all agree to so that we can
sing out the truth for the nation to hear, in chorus, its logic so clear and commanding that no
slick Madison Avenue commercial, no amount of geniality, no martial music will be able to
muffle the sound of the truth.
And we Democrats must unite. We Democrats must unite so that the entire nation can unite,
because surely the Republicans won't bring this country together. Their policies divide the
nation into the lucky and the leftout,
into the royalty and the rabble. The Republicans are
willing to treat that division as victory. They would cut this nation in half, into those
temporarily better off and those worse off than before, and they would call that division
Now, we should not be embarrassed or dismayed or chagrined if the process of unifying is
difficult, even wrenching at times. Remember that, unlike any other Party, we embrace men
and women of every color, every creed, every orientation, every economic class. In our family
are gathered everyone from the abject poor of Essex County in New York, to the enlightened
affluent of the gold coasts at both ends of the nation. And in between is the heart of our
constituency the
middle class, the people not rich enough to be worryfree,
but not poor
enough to be on welfare? the middle class those
people who work for a living because they
have to, not because some psychiatrist told them it was a convenient way to fill the interval
between birth and eternity. White collar and blue collar. Young professionals. Men and women
in small business desperate for the capital and contracts that they need to prove their worth.

Page 4
We speak for the minorities who have not yet entered the mainstream. We speak for ethnics
who want to add their culture to the magnificent mosaic that is America. We speak We
speak for women who are indignant that this nation refuses to etch into its governmental
commandments the simple rule "thou shalt not sin against equality," a rule so simple 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.
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.
Now we're proud of this diversity as Democrats. We're grateful for it. We don't have to
manufacture it the way the Republicans will next month in Dallas, by propping up mannequin
delegates on the convention floor. But we, while we're proud of this diversity, we pay a price
for it. The different people that we represent have different points of view. And sometimes
they compete and even debate, and even argue. That's what our primaries were all about. But
now the primaries are over and it is time, when we pick our candidates and our platform here,
to lock arms and move into this campaign together.
If you need any more inspiration to put some small part of your own difference aside to create
this consensus, then all you need to do is to reflect on what the Republican policy of divide
and cajole has done to this land since 1980. Now the President has asked the American people
to judge him on whether or not he's fulfilled the promises he made four years ago. I believe,
as Democrats, we ought to accept that challenge. And just for a moment let us consider what
he has said and what he's done.
Inflation is down since 1980, but not because of the supplyside
miracle promised to us by the
President. Inflation was reduced the oldfashioned
way: with a recession, the worst since
1932. We could have brought inflation down that way. How did he do it? 55,000 bankruptcies?
two years of massive unemployment? 200,000 farmers and ranchers forced off the land? more
homeless than at any time since the Great Depression in 1932? more hungry, in this world of
enormous affluence, the United States of America, more hungry? more poor, most of them
women. And he paid one other thing, a nearly 200 billion dollar deficit threatening our future.
Now, we must make the American people understand this deficit because they don't. The
President's deficit is a direct and dramatic repudiation of his promise in 1980 to balance the
budget by 1983. How large is it?

Page 5
The deficit is the largest in the history of the universe. It President
Carter's last budget had
a deficit less than onethird
of this deficit. It is a deficit that, according to the President's own
fiscal adviser, may grow to as much 300 billion dollars a year for "as far as the eye can see."
And, ladies and gentlemen, it is a debt so large that
is almost onehalf
of the money we
collect from the personal income tax each year goes just to pay the interest. It is a mortgage
on our children's future that can be paid only in pain and that could bring this nation to its
Now don't take my word for it I'm
a Democrat. Ask the Republican investment bankers on
Wall Street what they think the chances of this recovery being permanent are. You see, if
they're not too embarrassed to tell you the truth, they'll say that they're appalled and
frightened by the President's deficit. Ask them what they think of our economy, now that it's
been driven by the distorted value of the dollar back to its colonial condition. Now we're
exporting agricultural products and importing manufactured ones. Ask those Republican
investment bankers what they expect the rate of interest to be a year from now. And ask
them if
they dare tell you the truth you'll
learn from them, what they predict for the
inflation rate a year from now, because of the deficit.
Now, how important is this question of the deficit. Think about it practically: What chance
would the Republican candidate have had in 1980 if he had told the American people that he
intended to pay for his socalled
economic recovery with bankruptcies, unemployment, more
homeless, more hungry, and the largest government debt known to humankind? If he had
told the voters in 1980 that truth, would American voters have signed the loan certificate for
him on Election Day? Of course not! That was an election won under false pretenses. It was
won with smoke and mirrors and illusions. And that's the kind of recovery we have now as
But what about foreign policy? They said that they would make us and the whole world safer.
They say they have. By creating the largest defense budget in history, one that even they now
admit is excessive by
escalating to a frenzy the nuclear arms race? by incendiary rhetoric?
by refusing to discuss peace with our enemies? by the loss of 279 young Americans in
Lebanon in pursuit of a plan and a policy that no one can find or describe.
We give money to Latin American governments that murder nuns, and then we lie about it.
We have been less than zealous in support of our only real friend it
seems to me, in the
Middle East the
one democracy there, our flesh and blood ally, the state of Israel. Our
foreign policy drifts with no real direction, other than an hysterical commitment to an arms
race that leads nowhere if
we're lucky. And if we're not, it could lead us into bankruptcy or
Of course we must have a strong defense! Of course Democrats are for a strong defense. Of
course Democrats believe that there are times that we must stand and fight. And we have.
Thousands of us have paid for freedom with our lives. But always when
this country has
been at its best our
purposes were clear. Now they're not. Now our allies are as confused as
our enemies.

Page 6
Now we have no real commitment to our friends or to our ideals not
to human rights, not to
the refuseniks, not to Sakharov, not to Bishop Tutu and the others struggling for freedom in
South Africa.
We have in the last few years spent more than we can afford. We have pounded our chests
and made bold speeches. But we lost 279 young Americans in Lebanon and we live behind
sand bags in Washington. How can anyone say that we are safer, stronger, or better?
That is the Republican record. That its disastrous quality is not more fully understood by the
American people I can only attribute to the President's amiability and the failure by some to
separate the salesman from the product.
And now it's up to us. Now it's up to you and to me to make the case to America. And to
remind Americans that if they are not happy with all that the President has done so far, they
should consider how much worse it will be if he is left to his radical proclivities for another four
years unrestrained. Unrestrained.
If July brings back Ann Gorsuch Burford what
can we expect of December? Where would Where
would another four years take us? Where would four years more take us? How much
larger will the deficit be? How much deeper the cuts in programs for the struggling middle
class and the poor to limit that deficit? How high will the interest rates be? How much more
acid rain killing our forests and fouling our lakes?
And, ladies and gentlemen, the nation must think of this: What kind of Supreme Court will 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 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.

Page 7
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.
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, 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 but fair law and order.
We believe proudly in the union movement.
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 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 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.
For 50 years we Democrats created a better future for our children, using traditional
Democratic principles as a fixed beacon, giving us direction and purpose, but constantly
innovating, adapting to new realities: Roosevelt's alphabet programs? Truman's NATO and the
GI Bill of Rights? Kennedy's intelligent tax incentives and the Alliance for Progress? Johnson's
civil rights? Carter's human rights and the nearly miraculous Camp David Peace Accord.

Page 8
Democrats did it and Democrats can do it again. We can build a future that deals with our
deficit. Remember this, that 50 years of progress under our principles never cost us what the
last four years of stagnation have. And we can deal with the deficit intelligently, by shared
sacrifice, with all parts of the nation's family contributing, building partnerships with the
private sector, providing a sound defense without depriving ourselves of what we need to feed
our children and care for our people. We can have a future that provides for all the young of
the present, by marrying common sense and compassion.
We know we can, because we did it for nearly 50 years before 1980. And we can do it again, if
we do not forget that this entire nation has profited by these progressive principles? that they
helped lift up generations to the middle class and higher? that they gave us a chance to work,
to go to college, to raise a family, to own a house, to be secure in our old age and, before
that, to reach heights that our own parents would not have dared dream of.
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 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.
And that they were able to build a family and live in dignity and see one of their children go
from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica on the other side of the tracks where
he was born, to occupy the highest seat, in the greatest State, in the greatest nation, in the
only world we would know, is an ineffably beautiful tribute to the democratic process.
And ladies and gentlemen, on January 20, 1985, it will happen again only
on a much, much
grander scale. We will have a new President of the United States, a Democrat born not to the
blood of kings but to the blood of pioneers and immigrants. And we will have America's first
woman Vice President, the child of immigrants, and she will open with one magnificent stroke,
a whole new frontier for the United States.
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.
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