NewsHour presidential historian Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph, associate professor of African-American studies and history at Brandeis University, share their favorite speeches from the history of Democratic Party conventions.
Joseph picked Bill Clinton’s 1992 address in New York when he argued that the party needed a “new covenant” with America.
“What Clinton offers in 1992 in terms of rhetorical eloquence and political genius is this notion that the Democratic Party can still help poor people but it’s going to have to do this on a much smaller scale,” Joseph said. “He talks about we need a leaner government and not a meaner government.”
For Norton Smith, Adlai Stevenson set the gold standard for Democratic convention speeches with his 1952 speech in Chicago. After delivering a well-received welcoming speech, Stevenson was selected as the party’s presidential candidate two days later. It is that acceptance speech that Norton Smith said electrified millions of Americans listening to their radios back home.
“He used words in a way that no one had heard before. There was an urbanity, there was a wit, there was a sense of the ridiculous about the political process. And it was all about challenging the American people. Stevenson said, ‘better lose an election than mislead the American people.” Norton Smith said. “Stevenson raised the bar.”