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Furthermore! – Economic Justice

June 29, 2011


Furthermore! – Economic Justice

No Great Speeches series would be complete without a speech from Teddy Kennedy.

Edward M. Kennedy was the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts for almost 47 years. He was called the Liberal Lion of the Senate and when he died in August 2009 we lost a great spokesman for our causes.

As I sifted through the list of his speeches there were many to choose from. Speeches from his heart with his eulogy to his brother Robert F. Kennedy, speeches asking for forgiveness after personal failings, oratory to bring us to our feet cheering for his causes which were and became our causes.

But the speech that connects most forcefully with our current political situation is his speech after a moment of defeat: his address to the Democratic Party Convention in 1980 after his failed attempt to win the nomination.

Speeches can contain words to live by, words that call us to action for an important cause and words that connect to our deepest feelings about fairness and compassion.

Ted Kennedy had just primaried a sitting Democratic president and had come up short in his attempt to be the party’s nominee. He spoke to the convention (link includes audio):

My fellow Democrats and my fellow Americans, I have come here tonight not to argue as a candidate but to affirm a cause.

I’m asking you — I am asking you to renew the commitment of the Democratic Party to economic justice.

I am asking you to renew our commitment to a fair and lasting prosperity that can put America back to work.

Our country was in a recession in 1980 and unemployment was high. Kennedy reminded us of what the Democratic party stood for:

The serious issue before us tonight is the cause for which the Democratic Party has stood in its finest hours, the cause that keeps our Party young and makes it, in the second century of its age, the largest political Party in this republic and the longest lasting political Party on this planet.

Our cause has been, since the days of Thomas Jefferson, the cause of the common man and the common woman.

Our commitment has been, since the days of Andrew Jackson, to all those he called “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers.” On this foundation we have defined our values, refined our policies, and refreshed our faith.

He mocked the Republican party’s nominee, Ronald Reagan, in terms that should resonate with those who see today’s Republican party attempting to rewrite the past also:

The same Republicans who are talking about the crisis of unemployment have nominated a man who once said, and I quote, “Unemployment insurance is a prepaid vacation plan for freeloaders.” And that nominee is no friend of labor.

The same Republicans who are talking about the problems of the inner cities have nominated a man who said, and I quote, “I have included in my morning and evening prayers every day the prayer that the Federal Government not bail out New York.” And that nominee is no friend of this city and our great urban centers across this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about security for the elderly have nominated a man who said just four years ago that “Participation in social security should be made voluntary.” And that nominee is no friend of the senior citizens of this nation.

The same Republicans who are talking about preserving the environment have nominated a man who last year made the preposterous statement, and I quote, “Eighty percent of our air pollution comes from plants and trees.” And that nominee is no friend of the environment.

And the same Republicans who are invoking Franklin Roosevelt have nominated a man who said in 1976, and these are his exact words, “Fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.” And that nominee whose name is Ronald Reagan has no right to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. What is right for us as Democrats is also the right way for Democrats to win.

Those “same Republicans” sound like the “same Republicans” who ran on the Americans for (Rich People’s) Prosperity tea party platform in 2010 and who threaten the future of our country in 2011.

He is 100% certain of who we are:

We are the Party — We are the Party of the New Freedom, the New Deal, and the New Frontier. We have always been the Party of hope. So this year let us offer new hope, new hope to an America uncertain about the present, but unsurpassed in its potential for the future.

To all those who are idle in the cities and industries of America let us provide new hope for the dignity of useful work. Democrats have always believed that a basic civil right of all Americans is that their right to earn their own way. The Party of the people must always be the Party of full employment.

To all those who doubt the future of our economy, let us provide new hope for the reindustrialization of America. And let our vision reach beyond the next election or the next year to a new generation of prosperity. If we could rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II, then surely we can reindustrialize our own nation and revive our inner cities in the 1980’s.

To all those who work hard for a living wage let us provide new hope that their price of their employment shall not be an unsafe workplace and a death at an earlier age.

To all those who inhabit our land from California to the New York Island, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters, let us provide new hope that prosperity shall not be purchased by poisoning the air, the rivers, and the natural resources that are the greatest gift of this continent. We must insist that our children and our grandchildren shall inherit a land which they can truly call America the beautiful.

To all those who see the worth of their work and their savings taken by inflation, let us offer new hope for a stable economy. We must meet the pressures of the present by invoking the full power of government to master increasing prices. In candor, we must say that the Federal budget can be balanced only by policies that bring us to a balanced prosperity of full employment and price restraint.

And to all those overburdened by an unfair tax structure, let us provide new hope for real tax reform. Instead of shutting down classrooms, let us shut off tax shelters. Instead of cutting out school lunches, let us cut off tax subsidies for expensive business lunches that are nothing more than food stamps for the rich.

He concludes with this:

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Here is the checklist from Senator Kennedy’s speech the summer of 1980:
1. Full employment
2. American reindustrialization
3. Safe workplaces
4. Environmental protections
5. Stable economy
6. Protection of our social safety nets

As we now know, the Conservative Winter ushered in with the victory of Ronald Reagon in 1980 froze and rolled back progress.

Now that we are thawing and our Progressive Spring moves towards our Progressive Summer, we can pick up where our Progressive forebearers left off.

Economic justice does not just get lip service from Democrats, it is one of the founding principles of our party.

Let’s join together in solidarity as Democrats by setting aside our differences to gather our forces and push back against privilege and the wrong-headedness of Republican policies: from 1980 and from 2010.

Together we can win economic justice for ourselves and those who come after us.

And create the America that Teddy Kennedy envisioned for us.


Great Speeches is a BPI Campus series of speeches by American politicians.
Patricia Schroeder: Nothing new under the sun
Lyndon B. Johnson: “This most basic right”
Barbara Jordan: Sharing and shaping our future
Hubert H. Humphrey: “The bright sunshine of human rights”
Robert F. Kennedy: “A tiny ripple of hope”
Barack Obama: A clear difference
Martin Luther King: Remembering our past
FDR: Bully pulpits


Reader Comments Welcome

  • JanF

    I recommend taking time to listen to the audio of the speech from the American Rhetoric web site.

    It will remind you of what we lost in 2009.

    Republicans have been lying with impunity since they rejected the mantle of the Party of Lincoln and became the Party of Reagan. Let’s relegate them to the same status of the Bullmoose Party: a quaint historical nugget.

    • winterbanyan

      I had an interesting conversation with a young woman a few days ago. She criticized me for mentioning a truck that passed by that carried the Stars and Bars and saying I hated it.

      She replied, I hate politics, everyone’s the same, all they do is fight.

      I replied with the history of the resurgence of the Stars and Bars, and asked her why I shouldn’t object to that racism. And how she could overlook politics when people acted like that?

      Her reply, I don’t care about the parties and their fights. I care about ALL the people.

      I answered: Then that makes you a Democrat, because that’s what we’re fighting for.

      I hate to see young people turned off because they think it’s all about fighting. I guess we have another message to get out there.

  • winterbanyan

    This was a great speech. Thanks for returning it to us. The Kennedys were born to wealth, but their father (like him or not) had to fight for privilege because he was Irish. He instilled in his sons a workingman’s belief in justice for all, the duty of wealth to take care of the less fortunate.

    His sons never forgot their common roots, or their duty to We the People. The loss of Ted Kennedy was a severe blow. We need to pick up his lance and resume the fight.

    It’s a fight for us all.

  • Julie Gulden

    I always wonder why the Kennedy clan and the FDR clan always had such a passion for “the common man.” What differentiates them from those of the wealthy class who stick with the “cut taxes” group? I guess I should just be grateful that they did/do.

    • JanF

      I wonder that as well. Perhaps at some point they realized that their wealth derived from The Commons. The other Republicans are like George W. Bush starting out on third base and thinking he had hit a triple. Their wealth was, in their mind, based on their own accomplishments … not anything that had placed them at an advantage.

      We should be grateful. For all their personal failings, the Kennedy’s – John, Robert and Ted – added a lot to our country, not the least of which was their ability to put words together in a way that makes us want to DO instead of just think about doing.

    • HurrikanEagle

      In the case of the Roosevelts (Teddy was a Republican yes but he was a Republican at the turn of the century who fought against the Robber Baron Monopolies using the Sherman Anti-Trust act and gave us the national park system), I think it was the case of illness during childhood possibly that did it.

      Teddy grew up with asthma that he had to overcome to become the things he did, and FDR had polio as we all know now. I can’t help but wonder if those had something to do with the Roosevelts beliefs.

      As far as the Kennedy clan I can’t help but wonder if it arises from the fact that they were Irish Catholic, so no matter how much wealth they amassed they would never truly be part of the “in” crowd, especially JFK’s father.

      • Roby NJ

        RFK jr. is cut from the same cloth. Tireless and brilliant advocate for people and planet. He had a troubled youth, and does not have the golden voice of his father and uncles, but is an amazing, inspiring champion. You look a him, you see Bobby and JFK in his eyes and his smile.

        I’ve been lucky enough to talk to him a couple of times, and heard him speak. Knowing what he’s gone through, and the conscious Kennedy legacy he must feel, and seeing how he’s lived it, I have to believe it’s just in his blood.

        • JanF

          I have often wondered how he felt with his voice and the legacy of those great speakers. Bobby Jr. is exactly my age and came from a large family like I did. Bobby and Ethel’s kids had a lot to go through. Some came out of it better than others. I think Bobby Jr got the Kennedy spirit if not the voice.

  • winterbanyan

    Thanks for this amazing series, Jan. Truly a great reminder and a valuable look at history.

  • addisnana

    Thanks Jan. 💡 These speeches are a great reminder of our values and what we are fighting today to protect. Sometimes in the midst of the silliness that screams out as a substitute for political discourse today, these speeches remind us of what politicians can be.

    Someday a future Jan will be writing about some of Senator Bernie Sanders and President Obama’s speeches as evidence that once upon a time people were giving great speeches.

  • NCrissieB

    Thank you for this amazing series, Jan. It is so important to reconnect with our history as Democrats, and remember that the causes we fight so passionately for today are the same causes our party has fought for over the past century. On the one hand, we can see that with disappointment, thinking those causes were or should have been won and we shouldn’t have to fight them again. On the hand, we can see that with hope, knowing we have won victories on those causes before and can win victories again.

    To honor all the Great Speakers you recognized … I choose hope.