The Dream Shall Never Die

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"The Dream Shall Never Die"
DateAugust 12, 1980; 38 years ago (1980-08-12)
Duration32 minutes
VenueMadison Square Garden
LocationNew York City, New York

"The Dream Shall Never Die" was a speech delivered by United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention on August 12, 1980. In the address, Kennedy defended post-World War II liberalism, advocated for a national healthcare insurance model, criticized retired Hollywood actor and Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, and implicitly rebuked incumbent President Jimmy Carter (to whom he had conceded the Democratic nomination only the night before) for his more moderate political stances. It has been remembered by some as Kennedy's best speech, and one of the most influential orations of the era.


Senator Edward "Ted" M. Kennedy, 1974

August 12 was devoted to platform debate. It began in the morning with social issues, and contentiously shifted to economic policies. Both the Carter delegate majority and the Kennedy delegate minority had six speakers to propose policies and counter the others' arguments. The final majority spokesman was United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. Young's words were drowned out by increasingly intense pro-Kennedy chants, which did not stop until Representative Barbara Mikulski introduced Kennedy, who himself was to make the minority's final economic comments.[1]

The speech[edit]


According to Bernard K. Duffy and Richard Leeman, the first draft of the speech was created by Carey Parker and Bob Shrum. Kennedy made additions, which were taken by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Ted Sorenson and made into the final draft. Kennedy rehearsed the speech with a teleprompter twice, once in his hotel and again at the convention site.[2]

Kennedy remembered the process somewhat differently, stating in a 2005 interview that the original speech was continuously altered, starting from before the convention when Carter declined to participate in a debate and instead suggested that differences be expressed during the platform committees. That night Kennedy and his sisters Jean, Pat, and Eunice began piecing together a new speech, with Shrum filling in where necessary. This supposedly continued every night until the platform arguments.[3]


Kennedy spoke for 32 minutes.[4] He opened by conceding his defeat:[5]

Well, things worked out a little different from the way I thought, but let me tell you, I still love New York.

He criticized Republican nominee Ronald Reagan's ideas and nostalgically appealed to a defense of old liberal values:[6][7]

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. What is right for us as Democrats is also the right way for Democrats to win.

The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together.

Kennedy then developed his argument, displaying his role as a spokesperson for Democratic voters. To do this, he employed prosopopoeia, telling real life stories of people he had met while campaigning.[8] Shrum would maintain that this technique was new at the time and later popularized by Reagan:[5]

Among you, my golden friends across this land, I have listened and learned. I have listened to Kenny Dubois, a glassblower in Charleston, West Virginia, who has ten children to support but has lost his job after 35 years, just three years short of qualifying for his pension. I have listened to the Trachta family who farm in Iowa and who wonder whether they can pass the good life and the good earth on to their children. I have listened to the grandmother in East Oakland who no longer has a phone to call her grandchildren because she gave it up to pay the rent on her small apartment. I have listened to young workers out of work, to students without the tuition for college, and to families without the chance to own a home. I have seen the closed factories and the stalled assembly lines of Anderson, Indiana and South Gate, California, and I have seen too many, far too many idle men and women desperate to work. I have seen too many, far too many working families desperate to protect the value of their wages from the ravages of inflation.

Towards the end of the speech, Kennedy made his only mention of President Carter in an unenthusiastic non-endorsement:[9]

I congratulate President Carter on his victory here. I am confident that the Democratic party will reunite on the basis of Democratic principles, and that together we will march towards a Democratic victory in 1980.

The crowd applauded and then fell silent. As he finished, Kennedy mentioned his brothers, Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, something he usually avoided doing:[5]

And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith. May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again. And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are–
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

Kennedy had been interrupted by cheers and applause a total of 51 times.[10] He would later write that the delegates' response was "warm and generous".[11] Sustained applause and cheers followed his speech for half an hour.[12]


The following day Carter told state and local officials during a reception at Sheraton Centre Hotel that "Last night after one of the greatest speeches I have ever heard I called Senator Kennedy and told him how much I appreciated it. Ours is a nation, ours is a party well-represented by thousands of people like you who believe in the greatness of the United States, and who believe in openness, debate, controversy, courage, conviction and who believe in their future, and are not afraid to express your will in the most open, democratic and greatest party on earth. I'm grateful to you for that."[13]


The speech is considered the most famous of Kennedy's senatorial career and laid the foundation for the modern Democratic Party's platform.[14] Schlesinger would write in his diary that he "had never heard Ted deliver a better speech."[10] Former campaign aide Joe Trippi later said, "In a lot of ways, a whole country of young people were inspired that day."[15] It is often considered to be one of the most effective political orations of the time period.[16] It was ranked as the 76th best American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 survey of academics.[17] According to Robert S. McElvaine, "It was a great speech to read or to hear in the arena, but it was considerably less effective on television."[18]

Kennedy referenced his words during the endorsement he made for Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, saying, "the work begins anew, the hope rises again and the dream lives on".[10]

Following Kennedy's death in 2009, many media outlets circulated footage of the closing of the speech.[19]


  1. ^ "Divided Democrats Renominate Carter". CQ Almanac. CQ Press. 1980.
  2. ^ Duffy & Leeman 2005, p. 245.
  3. ^ Craig, Bryan (25 July 2016). "Ted Kennedy Remembers the 1980 Democratic Convention". Miller Center of Public Affairs. University of Virginia. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  4. ^ Burke 1992, p. 275.
  5. ^ a b c Shrum 2007, Chapter 3: Almost to the White House
  6. ^ Hersh 2010, p. 484.
  7. ^ Crines et al. 2016, p. 109.
  8. ^ Crines et al. 2016, p. 110.
  9. ^ Cost 2016
  10. ^ a b c Crines et al. 2016, p. 111.
  11. ^ Kennedy 2009, Chapter 18: Sailing Against the Wind.
  12. ^ Allis, Sam (18 February 2009). "Losing a quest for the top, finding a new freedom". Boston Globe. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  13. ^ Smith, Hendrick (14 August 1980). "Carter Wins Nomination for a Second Term; Gets Kennedy Pledge of Support and Work". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy". U.S. Political Conventions & Campaigns. Northeastern University. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  15. ^ Wire, Sarah D. (26 August 2008). "Warm welcome for party stalwart". Los Angeles Times.
  16. ^ Vigil 2015, p. 1390.
  17. ^ Kuypers 2004, p. 185.
  18. ^ McElvaine 1988, p. 350.
  19. ^ Brooks, David (29 August 2009). "Kennedy the great compromiser". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 28 September 2016.


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