Mario Cuomo Addresses the 1984 Democratic Convention

“There is despair, Mr. President, in faces you never see.”

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Introduction

Ronald Reagan was reelected as President in 1984 in an unexciting landslide over Walter Mondale, who had been Jimmy Carter's vice president. Mondale's only victory was in his home state, Minnesota.

Mondale had defeated the Reverend Jesse Jackson, former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, and Ohio Senator John Glenn in the Democratic primaries. When they met in July, Democrats wanted to show they were united behind Mondale in his uphill battle to unseat Reagan. Two New Yorkers played key roles at that convention in San Francisco: Representative Geraldine Ferraro, who became the first-ever female vice presidential candidate; and Governor Mario Cuomo, who delivered a passionate keynote address on Democratic dreams and Reagan failures. It was a speech that rocketed Cuomo's political career to the national level.

[Note: In a convention's "keynote address," a party leader delivers a lengthy speech about the overall goals of the party, pledges the convention's support for its Presidential candidate, and outlines strategies to defeat the opposition in the November election.]

From the keynote address delivered by New York Governor Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco:

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."

A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the verandah of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well.

But there's another part of 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 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.

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 never see, in the places you never visit in your shining city.

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 subsidized foreign steel while we surrender their dignity to unemployment and to welfare checks; maybe if you stepped into 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 to build a missile we can't even afford to use — maybe then you'd understand.

Maybe, Mr. President.

But I'm afraid not. . . .

The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. 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.

We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact.

The President has asked us to judge him on whether or not he's fulfilled the promises he made four years ago. I accept that. Just consider what he said and what he's done.

Inflation is down since 1980 . . . reduced the old-fashioned way, with a recession, the worst since 1932. More than 55,000 bankruptcies. Two years of massive unemployment. Two hundred thousand farmers and ranchers forced off the land. More homeless than at any time since the Great Depression. More hungry, more poor, and a nearly $200 billion deficit . . . a mortgage on our children's futures that can only be paid in pain and that could eventually bring this nation to its knees. . . .

Where would another four years take us? How much larger will the deficit be? How high will we pile the missiles? Will we make meaner the spirit of our people?

We Democrats still have a dream. We still believe in this nation's future.

It's a story 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 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. 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 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 to occupy the highest seat in the greatest state of the greatest nation in the only world we know, is an ineffably beautiful tribute to the democratic process. . . .

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.

  • Subjects:
    Politics, The Presidency
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