Sen. Ted Kennedy once again electrifies a convention with his oratory.
On Aug. 12, 1980, I had the privilege to sit in the press section near the podium at the Democratic National Convention in New York City and listen to Sen. Ted Kennedy deliver his concession speech.
Kennedy had lost his bid to be the Democratic presidential nominee to Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan had been chosen as the GOP nominee a few weeks earlier in July. Kennedy’s presidential quest was over and now it was time for him to rally the troops and push the party forward to November.
Kennedy has always been a great orator. In his concession speech, the intonation contours of his sentences rose upward in a powerful crest like a majestic oceanic wave curling toward a beach.
His Massachusetts accent flavored his speech and I pictured him dressed in a black suit with a square belt buckle in a colonial meetinghouse urging his fellow villagers to help harvest corn before the first frosts of winter.
Even more than his brothers, Ted Kennedy has a sense of oratorical timing and word emphasis that can capture and captivate. His voice also has a deeper timbre than Jack’s or Bobby’s. At times, his voice absolutely resounded in that emotion-filled hall nearly 30 years ago.
His message was to reaffirm the values of the Democratic Party, as a party of the people.
“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 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 1980s.”
He spoke these lines during the time of “stagflation,” a period in which inflation and unemployment were growing but the economy was stalled. It was also a time of long gas lines and joblessness. It was a period dominated by a feeling of national “malaise,” a phrase attributed to Carter but one which he never actually spoke.
All of which, made Kennedy’s speech of hope and affirmation more appealing.
Twenty-eight years later, Ted Kennedy approached the podium on the opening evening of the Democratic National Convention in Denver to pass the torch to a new generation. In the midst of chemotherapy for a malignant brain tumor, he had gone against doctors’ advice to attend and said, “nothing – nothing is going to keep me from this special gathering tonight.”
He walked slowly and with some effort. His shirt collar seemed a bit too large for him, which added to the overall look of someone who was fighting an epic fight. His voice was surprisingly strong and the chance to captivate and electrify the audience was still there and he seized it. He looked to the future and talked about this time being one of hope and change.He ended with an echo of his famous speech in 1980.
“The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”
And once again, the oratorical wave swelled and carried the convention to the shore. Peter Costa is a senior editor with Community Newspaper Company. His book, “CostaLiving: Laughing through Life,” a collection of his humor columns, is available at amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble bookstores.