New York Governor Mario Cuomo
delivers the keynote
address at the Democratic National Convention
, San Francisco
, CA, July 16, 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, and even worried, about themselves, their families and their futures.
The President said he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill."
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, another part of the shining 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 their houses there, and there are poor who sleep in the city's streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without an education or a job, give their lives away to drug dealers every day.
There is despair, Mr. President, in faces you don't see, in the places you don't visit in your shining city. In fact, Mr. President, this is a nation--Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more of a "Tale of Two Cities," than it is just a "shining city on a hill."
Maybe, if you visited more places, Mr. President, you'd understand. Maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds, and to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidize foreign steel; maybe if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and talked with some of the homeless there.
Maybe Mr. President, if you asked a woman who'd been denied the help she needs to feed her children because you say we need the money to give a tax break to a millionaire, or for a missile we couldn't afford to use--maybe then you'd understand.
Maybe, Mr. President, but I'm afraid not. Because, the truth is, 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 trying to make it, to work their way into the middle class.
The Republicans called it "trickle-down" when Hoover tried it. Now they call it "supply-side." 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--but for the people who are locked out--all they can do is stare from a distance at that city's glimmering towers.
The Republicans believe the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of our old, some of our young, and some of our weak are left behind by the side of the trail.
The strong--the strong they tell us--will inherit the land!
We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact. 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 the family. Lifting them up into the wagon on the way. Blacks and Hispanics, people of every ethnic group, and Native Americans--all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America.
We Democrats must unite so that the entire nation can. Surely the Republicans won't bring the country together. Their policies divide the nation into the lucky and the left out, the royalty and the rabble.
The Republicans are willing to treat this division as victory. They would cut this nation in half, into those temporarily better off and those worse off than before, and call that division "recovery."
...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. The struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive, to live decently, is our struggle. The hunger of a woman in Little Rock, our hunger. The failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.
For fifty 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 G.I. 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 Accord. Democrats did it, and Democrats can do it again.
And we can do it again, if we do not forget, 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 to dream of.
That struggle to live with dignity is the real story of the shining city, and it's a story, ladies and gentlemen, 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 hands work fifteen and sixteen 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 and simple eloquence of his example. I learned about our obligation to each other from him and from my mother. And they asked to be protected in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves. This nation and its 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 were he was born, to occupy the highest seat in the greatest state in the greatest nation, in the only world we 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 the blood of pioneers and immigrants. 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. It will happen, if we make it happen--if you and I make it happen.
I ask you, 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.