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Text: Sen. Kennedy on the Future of the Democratic Party

Wednesday, January 12, 2005; 4:35 PM

Following is the full text of Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) speech at the National Press Club on the future of the Democratic party.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Sheila Cherry, for that gracious introduction and thank you to the Press Club for inviting me here today.

I'm honored to be joined on the dais by two outstanding young persons who represent a new generation of leadership for the Democratic party and our country. Grant Woodard is a junior at Grinnel College in Iowa, president of the College Democrats of America. He brilliantly organized students for John Kerry in the Iowa caucuses a year ago. And last fall he led a national effort to mobilize student voters. So I appreciate his presence.

And Andrew Gillum is the youngest person ever elected to the city commission in Tallahassee. He was elected while still a student at Florida A M and now, two years later, the commission has chosen him as mayor pro tem of the city.

Andrew served last fall as the Florida director of the Get Out The Vote campaign for People for the American Way. I'm pleased he's joined with us here today.


These two young leaders have a passion for public service and a talent for inspiring others. After spending a few minutes with them, you'll be reassured that the nation's future is in good hands.

Ten years ago almost to the day, I stood at this podium after another election in which Democrats lost ground, far too much ground, an unwelcome distribution of power with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress for the first time in nearly half a century.

2004 was nothing like that. It was more a replay of 2000. This time a switch of less than 60,000 votes in Ohio would've brought victory. Unlike 2000, it would've been a victory against an incumbent president in a time of war.

Small swings in other states could also have given Democrats control of the Senate or the House or even both.

Obviously it hurts to come so close in all three battles and then fail by so little. We did many things right, but there is no cause for complacency.

I categorically reject the deceptive and dangerous claim that the outcome last November was somehow a sweeping or even a modest or even a miniature mandate for reactionary measures like privatizing Social Security...


... redistributing the tax burden in the wrong direction or packing the federal courts with reactionary judges.

Those proposals were barely mentioned or voted on in an election dominated by memories of 9/11, fear of terrorism, the quagmire in Iraq and relentlessly negative attacks on our presidential candidate.

In truth, we do not shrink from that debate. There is no doubt that we must do a better job of looking within ourselves and speaking out for the principles we believe in and for the values that are the foundation of our actions. Americans need to hear more, not less, about those values.

We were remiss in not talking more directly about them, about the fundamental ideals that guide our progressive policies.

In the words of Martin Luther King, we must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

Unlike the Republican Party, we believe our values unite us as Americans instead of dividing us. If the White House idea of bipartisanship is that we have to buy whatever partisan ideas they send us, we are not interested.


In fact, our values are still our greatest strength. Despite resistance, setbacks and periods of backlash over the years, our values have moved us closer to the ideal with which America began, that all people are created equal.

And when Democrats say, all, we mean all.

We have an administration that falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis. They did it on Iraq. And they are doing it now on Social Security.

In the face of their tactics, we cannot move our party or our nation forward under the pale colors and timid voices. We cannot play Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose.

As I have said on other occasions, the last things our country needs is two Republican Parties.


Today I propose a progressive vision for America; a vision that Democrats must fight for in the months and years ahead; a vision rooted in our basic values of opportunity, fairness, tolerance and respect for each other.

These founding beliefs are still the essence of the American dream today. That dream is the North Star of the Democratic Party; the compass that guides our policies and sets our course to freedom and opportunity, to fairness and justice, not just for the few, not just for some, but for all.

At our best in all the great causes for which our party has stood we have kept that dream alive for all Americans, even and especially in difficult times. And we will not fail to do so now.

Today, as we know too well, that dream is again in peril. The hopes of average Americans have faltered, as global forces cause the economy to shift against them. The challenge has been needlessly compounded because Republican Congresses and administrations have consciously chosen negative policies that diminish the American dream.

We cannot reclaim it by tinkering at the margins. No nation is guaranteed a position of lasting prosperity and security. We have to work for it, we have to fight for it and we have to sacrifice for it.

We have a choice. We can continue to be buffeted by the harsh winds of a shrinking world, or we can think anew and guide the currents of globalization with a new progressive vision that strengthens America and equips our citizens to move confidently to the future.

Our progressive vision is not just for Democrats or Republicans, for red states or blue states. It's a way forward for the nation as a whole to a new prosperity and greater opportunity for all; a vision not just of the country we can become, but the country that we must become: an America that embraces the values and aspiration of our people now and for coming generations.

It is a commitment to true opportunity for all, not as an abstract concept but as a practical necessity.

To find our way to the future, we need the skills, the insight and the productivity of every American, in a nation which each of us shares responsibility for the future and where the blessings of progress are shared fairly by all our citizens in return.

Obviously, we must deal with Iraq and the clear and present danger of terrorism. I intend to address that issue in greater detail after the elections there.

But I do not retreat from the view that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. At the critical moment in the war on terrorism, the administration turned away from pursuing Osama bin Laden and made the catastrophic choice instead that has bogged down America in an endless quagmire in Iraq.


Our misguided resort to war has created much more and much more intense anti-American feeling than Osama bin Laden ever dreamed of. And the sooner we reverse that distressing trend, the better.

I am convinced that John Kerry could have worked with the international community to end that war and bring our troops home with honor.

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