Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"The Speech"

In a summer where the initials have needed to have been used a remarkably frequent amount of time, once again they are employed to say, R.I.P., Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

His 1980 Democratic National Convention speech was not my earliest political memory. That would have been Nixon campaign commercials and then subsequent Watergate hearings a couple of years later.

However, Kennedy's convention address was the first such political speech that I remember watching and hearing and saying to myself, "Wow! That's amazing stuff." I had followed the campaign. As a kid in high school, my default political temperament at the time was liberal. I had There was little affection for Jimmy Carter. I may not have known that being a journalst would be in my future, but I instinctively knew a good story when one was occurring.

Ted Kennedy challenging the sitting president was a great story. And it turned out to be an exciting year -- even if made somewhat anti-climactic from early on when Kennedy stammered and floundered during an early interview with Roger Mudd. However, as winter rolled into the spring, Kennedy found his groove. He rattled off a number of late primary victories -- inclucing New York's (where I was living).

It wasn't enough. Carter had a significant lead in delegates. Kennedy's only hope was that his late showing and Carter's weakness in the polls against Ronald Reagan might be enough to inspire the convention to allow pledged delegates to "vote their conscience" -- and flip away from the incumbent.

Kennedy's people, however, lost a floor fight on those rules. When he came to he podium that night in New York City, he knew that there would be no way he would rest the nomination away from Carter. And with that, he then gave one of the greatest convention speeches ever. There's some speculation that much of it was constructed as an acceptance speech and then re-drafted when he lost the rules fight.

But, in truth, it doesn't read that way. There is a rhythm and tone throughout that is one of acceptance and reflection. It comes across as very clear that he likely knew the night before what the result floor battle would be -- and decided then that his speech would be an affirmation of the liberal ideals that his family and party had fought for his whole life.

Conservatism might be ascendant in the embodiment of Ronald Reagan, but Kennedy was not going to bow down before it. There is an integrity within that spirit. And the passion behind it comes through so vividly within the speech which is quite partisan -- against both Reagan and the GOP -- but delivered in a manner much less harsh than is heard in political rhetoric these days.

In any event, there is much to criticize Ted Kennedy on both personal and policy grounds. But, truthfully, rarely a week goes by when those words from 1980 don't float into my mind: "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."

They are words that inspire, not just the politically-minded, but also the budding speechwriter, even as they break a cardinal rule of rhetoric -- the rule of three. Kennedy's speech concluded with a quartet -- "work," "cause," "hope," "dream." The speech couldn't have worked any other way. He sold it in a way that no one else could. This was his shining moment. (And speechwriter Bob Shrum's too.)

Again, R.I.P. Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009.

The rest of the speech: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My further thoughts on Sen. Kennedy.


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