Mario Cuomo's Address To The Democratic Convention
Although Walter Mondale was resoundingly defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1984, Mario Cuomo's opening address to the Democratic convention that same year remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of all of those who heard it, and those who re-hear it today. It is a clarion cry for a different vision of America, and a demand that all the voices of Americans are heard. In an era where liberals were often criticized for being anti-American, Cuomo makes inventive use of this notion, reversing common tropes of patriotism. As someone who believes in the American Dream, Cuomo says he must support a more progressive vision than currently exists in America today. He supports an America where all Americans are cared for, where America is not simply a race where only the strongest are rewarded. He recalls stirring images from America's past to render this point: "We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees" (Cuomo 1984). The great American president who led America through World War II and created socially progressive programs to liberate America from the Great Depression, reminds Cuomo, was himself weak, in his own way.
In the arrangement of his text, Cuomo's speech begins with a reasoned, but fierce attack on the ruling administration. As a supporter of the challenger, it is his job, as a speaker, to make a case why Americans should vote a new president into office. "But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining 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 middle class, and speak for most Americans.
In the first half of his speech Cuomo conjures up a series of representative images throughout his speech to demonstrate how President Reagan is out-of-touch with America, and also to illustrate that the true American values are the values of compassion. "Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel" (Cuomo 1984). In this image, Cuomo makes a critique both of Reagan's cuts to social welfare programs and also his foreign policy in regards to imports (a reference which gains him one of his most sustained rounds of applause). "Maybe -- Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use" (Cuomo 1984). President Reagan's infamous supply-side economic policies, which stressed taxes for rich people, with the hopes that their spending and business-related efforts would 'trickle down' to the poorest are shown to have cruel results, as does Reagan's fixation on expanding the military budget.
The second half of Cuomo's speech (since this is a convention address) is to the party faithful, rallying them in their uphill struggle: "We must win this case on the merits. We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship to the reality, the hard substance of things" (Cuomo 1984).…
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