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Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy’s Speech at the DNC

July 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-Mass.: Thank you. Thank you, Bob Caro, for that generous introduction. With the continuing support of the people of Massachusetts, I intend to stay in this job until I get the hang of it.

To my fellow delegates and my fellow Democrats — I’ve waited a very, very long time to say this — welcome to my hometown!

To Americans everywhere — whose aspirations have been kindled anew by this campaign — we, who convene here tonight in liberty’s cradle, say: Welcome home!

Welcome home — for the ideals born in Boston and strengthened by centuries of service and sacrifice. Ideals like freedom and equality and opportunity and fairness and common decency for all — ideals that all Americans yearn to reclaim.

And make no mistake: Come November, reclaim them we shall — by making John Kerry president of the United States.

These fundamental ideals light the fire in each of us to do all we can — and then more — to see that next January, John Kerry has a nice new home — at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It fills me with pride to have our Democratic Convention in this city — this hallowed ground that gave birth to these enduring American ideals. Like my grandfather and my brother before me, I have been privileged to serve this place where every street is history’s home: The Old North Church, where lanterns signaled Paul Revere; The Old State House, where John Adams said independence was born; The Golden Steps, where waves of new immigrants entered this new land of liberty and opportunity, including all eight of my own great-grandparents from Ireland.

Here in New England, we love our history, and like all Americans, we learn from it. We breathe it deep, because it sustains us, it guides us, it inspires us.

It was no accident that Massachusetts was founded as a commonwealth, a place where authority belongs not to a single ruler, but to the people themselves, joined together for the common good.

The old system was based on inequality. Loyalty was demanded, never earned. Leaders ruled by fear, by force, by special favors for the few.

Under that old, unequal system, the quality of your connections mattered more than the content of your character. Your voices were not heard. Your concerns did not matter. Your votes did not count.

The colonists knew they could do better, just as we know we can do better today — but only if we all work together, only if we all reach out together, only if we all come together for the common good.

Now, it is for us, the patriots of this new century to do that, to shape our own better future and make it worthy of our past, to choose a leader worthy of our country — and that leader is John Kerry.

Today, more than two centuries after the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard “round the world,” the ideals of our founders still resonate across the globe. Young people in other lands — inspired by the liberty we cherish — linked arms and sang “We Shall Overcome” when the Berlin Wall fell, when apartheid ended in South Africa, and when the courageous protests took place in Tiananmen Square.

The goals of the American people are every bit as high as they were more than 200 years ago. If America is failing to reach them today, it’s not because our ideals need replacing, it’s because our president needs replacing.

We bear no ill will toward our opponents. In fact, we’d be happy to have them over for a polite little tea party. I know just the place — right down the road at Boston Harbor.

For today, like the brave and visionary men and women before us, we are determined to change our government.

I’ve served for many years in the Senate and have seen many elections. But there have been none more urgent or more important than this one. Never before have I seen a contrast so sharp or consequences so profound as in the choice we will make for president in 2004.

So much of the progress we once achieved has been turned back. So much of the goodwill America once enjoyed in the world has been lost. But we are a hopeful nation, and our values and our optimism are still burning bright.

Those same values and optimism are what brought our forebears across a harsh ocean and sustained them through many brutal winters — that inspired patriots from John Adams to John Kennedy to John Kerry, and their strong belief that America’s best days are still ahead.

There’s a reason why this land was called “the American experiment.” If dedication to the common good were hardwired into human nature, we would never have needed a revolution. If each of us cared about the public interest, we wouldn’t have the excesses of Enron. We wouldn’t have the abuses of Halliburton. And Vice President Cheney would be retired to an undisclosed location.

Soon, thanks to John Kerry and John Edwards, he’ll have ample time to do just that.

Our country demands a great deal from us, and we rightly demand a great deal from our leaders. America is a compact, a bargain, a contract. It says that all of us are connected. Our fates are intertwined. Fifty states, one nation. Our Constitution binds us together.

Yet in our own time, there are those who seek to divide us. One community against another. Urban against rural. City against suburb. Whites against blacks. Men against women. Straights against gays. Americans against Americans.

In these challenging times for our country, in these fateful times for the world, America needs a genuine uniter — not a divider who only claims to be a uniter.

We have seen how they rule — they divide and try to conquer. They know the power of the people is weakened when our house is divided. They believe they can’t win, unless the rest of us lose. We reject that shameful view.

The Democratic Party has a different idea. We believe that all of us can win. We believe we are one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And when we say all, we mean all.

Today in this global age, our goal of the common good extends far beyond America’s borders.

As President Kennedy said in 1963 in his quest for restraint in nuclear arms: “We can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Interdependence defines our world. For all our might, for all our wealth, we know we are only as strong as the bonds we share with others. The dangers of terrorism and nuclear proliferation — our greatest challenges — are shared by all nations. And our greatest opportunities — from achieving lasting peace and security, to building a more prosperous society, to ending the ravages of disease and the despairs of poverty — can all be seized. But only if the world works together, and only if America helps to lead in the right direction. And John Kerry has the skill and the judgment and the experience to lead us on that great journey.

The eyes of the world were on us and the hearts of the world were with us after September 11th — until this administration broke that trust. We should have honored, not ignored, the pledges we made. We should have strengthened, not scorned, the alliances that won two World Wars and the Cold War.

Most of all, we should have honored the principle so fundamental that our nation’s founders placed it in the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence — that America must give “a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind.”

We failed to do that in Iraq. More than 900 of our servicemen and women have already paid the ultimate price. Nearly 6,000 have been wounded in this misguided war. The administration has alienated long-time allies. Instead of making America more secure, they have made us less so. They have made it harder to win the real war on terrorism, the war against al-Qaida. None of this had to happen.

How could any president have possibly squandered the enormous goodwill that flowed to America from across the world after September 11th?

Most of the world still knows what we can be — what only we can be — and they want us to be that nation again.

America must be a light to the world, and under John Kerry and John Edwards, that’s what America will be.

We need a president who will bind up the nation’s wounds. We need a president who will be a symbol of respect in a world yearning to be at peace again. We need John Kerry as our president.

Time and again in America’s history, we as Democrats have offered new hope — of a stronger, fairer, more prosperous future for all our people — a society that feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, and cares for the sick – - so that none must walk alone.

When the elderly faced poverty and sickness that threatened their golden years, we created Social Security and Medicare.

When the voices of many citizens went unheard and their lives were blighted by bigotry, we fought for equality and justice — for civil rights and voting rights and the rights of women, for the cause of Americans with disabilities.

When higher education was beyond the reach of veterans returning home from war, we created the GI Bill of Rights — and we have continued ever since to make college more affordable for millions more Americans.

When men and women needed protection in the workplace, we demanded safe conditions for their jobs. We insisted on the right to higher pay for working overtime. We guaranteed the right to form a union. We pledged a fair minimum wage, so that no one in America who works for a living should have to live in poverty.

Only leaders who know this history — and abide by the ideals that shaped it – deserve to be trusted with our nation’s future. Sometimes, as in recent years, they have fooled us with their rhetoric. But we will not let them fool us twice.

In the White House, inscribed on a plaque above the fireplace in the State Dining Room, is a prayer — a simple but powerful prayer of John Adams, the first president to live in that great house. It reads: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but [the] honest and wise ever rule under this roof.” In November, we will make those words ring true again.

All of us who know John Kerry know that he is a fitting heir to these ideals. I have known John Kerry for three decades. I have known him as a soldier, as a peacemaker, as a prosecutor, as a Senator, and as a friend. And in every role he has shown his strengths. He was the right man for every tough task and he is the right leader for this time in history.

John is a war hero who understands that America’s strength comes from many sources — especially the power of our ideas. He knows that a true leader inspires hope and vanquishes fear.

This administration does neither. Instead it brings fear. Fear of rising costs for health care and for college — fear of higher unemployment and lesser pay — fear for the future of Social Security and Medicare — fear of greater bigotry — fear of pollution’s stain on our magnificent natural heritage — fear of four more years of dreams denied and promises unfulfilled and progressed rolled back.

In the depths of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt inspired the nation when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Today, we say the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush.

John Kerry offers hope, not fear. The hope of real victory against terrorism and true security at home. Of good health care for all Americans. Of Social Security that is always there for the elderly. Of schools that open golden doors of opportunity for all our children. Of an economy that works for everyone. That’s the kind of America we’ll have with John Kerry in the White House.

The roots of that America are planted deep in the New England soil. Across this region are burial grounds — many so humble you find them without intending to. You’re in a town like Concord, Massachusetts, or Hancock, New Hampshire. You’re visiting the old church there, and behind the chapel you find a small plot. Simple stones bearing simple markers. The markers say “War of 1776.”

They do not ask for attention. But they command it all the same. These are the patriots who won our freedom. These are the first Americans, who enlisted in a fight for something larger than themselves — for a shared faith in the future — for a nation that was alive in their hearts but not yet a part of their world.

They and their fellow patriots won their battle. But the larger battle for freedom, justice, equality and opportunity is our battle too, and it is never fully won. Each new generation has to take up the cause. Sometimes with weapons in hand; sometimes armed only with faith and hope, like the marchers in Birmingham or Selma four decades ago.

Sometimes the fight is waged in Congress or the courts; sometimes on foreign shores, like the battle that called one of my brothers to war in the Pacific, and another to die in Europe.

Now it is our turn to take up the cause. Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown.

Although it often seems that way.

Our struggle is with the politics of fear and favoritism in our own time, in our own country. Our struggle — like so many others before — is with those who put their own narrow interest ahead of the public interest.

We hear echoes of past battles in the quiet whisper of the sweetheart deal, in the hushed promise of a better break for the better connected. We hear them in the cries of the false patriots who bully dissenters into silence and submission. These are familiar fights. We’ve fought and won them before. And with John Kerry and John Edwards leading us, we will win them again and make America stronger at home and respected once more in the world.

For centuries, kings ruled by what they claimed was divine right. They could not be questioned. They could not be challenged. The people’s fate was not their own. But today, because of the surpassing wisdom of our founders, the constant courage of the patriots of the past, and the shared sacrifice of generations of Americans who kept the faith, the power of America still rests securely in citizens’ hands. In our hands.

True to our highest and noblest ideals, we intend to use that power. We will use it wisely and well. We will use it, in the poet’s words my brothers loved, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” We will use it to heal, to build, to hope, and to dream again. And in doing so, we will truly make our country once more America the Beautiful.

Thank you very much.