Muscular Dem Acceptance Speeches

Election '04

John Kerry's acceptance speech came at the first Democratic convention of the post-September 11 era – the most important speech of his political life thus far.

The Kerry team has emphasized images and themes of strength, security and security-through-strength. Republican spokespeople will undoubtedly try to paint Kerry as just the latest in a long line of Democrats who have been soft on defense and foreign affairs.

But guess what? There is a tradition of thoughtful, serious, smart and – yes – muscular language in Democratic acceptance speeches from the past four decades:

Sen. John F. Kennedy
Los Angeles, 1960

Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons – new and uncertain nations – new pressures of population and deprivation. One-third of the world, it has been said, may be free – but one-third is the victim of cruel repression – and the other one- third is rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.

President Lyndon Johnson
Atlantic City, 1964

I report tonight as President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on the strength of your country, and I tell you that is greater than any adversary. I assure you that it is greater than the combined might of all nations in all the wars, in all the history of this planet. And I report our superiority is growing. Weapons do not make peace. Men make peace. And peace comes not through strength alone, but through wisdom and patience and restraint.

Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey
Chicago, 1968

Last week we witnessed once again in Czechoslovakia the desperate attempt of tyranny to crush out the forces of liberalism by force and brutal power – to hold back change. But in Eastern Europe, as elsewhere, the old era will surely end and, there, as here, a new day will dawn. And to speed this day, we must go far beyond where we've been, beyond containment to communication, beyond differences to dialogue, beyond fear to hope. We must cross the remaining barriers of suspicion and despair. We must halt the arms race before it halts humanity.

Sen. George McGovern
Miami, 1972

Now, it is necessary in an age of nuclear power and hostile forces that we'll be militarily strong. America must never become a second-rate nation. As one who has tasted the bitter fruits of our weakness before Pearl Harbor in 1941, I give you my pledge that if I become the President of the United States, America will keep its defenses alert and fully sufficient to meet any danger. We will do that not only for ourselves, but for those who deserve and need the shield of our strength – our old allies in Europe and elsewhere, including the people of Israel who will always have our help to hold their Promised Land.

Gov. Jimmy Carter
New York, 1976

The foremost responsibility of any President, above all else, is to guarantee the security of our nation – a guarantee of freedom from the threat of successful attack or blackmail, and the ability with our allies to maintain peace. But peace is not the mere absence of war. Peace is action to stamp out international terrorism. Peace is the unceasing effort to preserve human rights. Peace is a combined demonstration of strength and good will. We will pray for peace and we will work for peace, until we have removed from all nations for all time the threat of nuclear destruction.

President Jimmy Carter
New York, 1980

You and I have been working toward a more secure future by rebuilding our military strength – steadily, carefully, and responsibly. The Republicans talk about military strength, but they were in office for 8 out of the last 11 years, and in the face of a growing Soviet threat they steadily cut real defense spending by more than a third. We've reversed the Republican decline in defense. Every year since I've been President we've had real increases in our commitment to a stronger nation, increases which are prudent and rational.

Vice President Walter Mondale
San Francisco, 1984

As we've neared the election, this administration has begun to talk about a safer world. But there's a big difference: As president, I will work for peace from my first day in office – and not from my first day campaigning for re-election. As president, I will reassert American values. I'll press for human rights in Central America, and for the removal of all foreign forces from the region. And in my first hundred days, I will stop the illegal war in Nicaragua. We know the deep differences with the Soviets. And America condemns their repression of dissidents and Jews; their suppression of Solidarity; their invasion of Afghanistan; their meddling around the world.

Gov. Michael Dukakis
Atlanta, 1988

We must be, we are, and we will be militarily strong. But we must back that military strength with economic strength; we must give the men and women of our armed forces weapons that work; we must have a Secretary of Defense who will manage – and not be managed by – the Pentagon; and we must have a foreign policy that reflects the decency and the principles and the values of the American people...Yes, we must always be prepared to defend our freedom. But we must always remember that our greatest strength comes not from what we possess, but from what we believe; not from what we have, but from who we are.

Gov. Bill Clinton
New York, 1992

That's what the New Covenant is all about. An America with the world's strongest defense, ready and willing to use force when necessary. An America at the forefront of the global effort to preserve and protect our common environment – and promoting global growth. An America that will not coddle tyrants, from Baghdad to Beijing. An America that champions the cause of freedom and democracy from Eastern Europe to Southern Africa – and in our own hemispheres, in Haiti and Cuba.

President Bill Clinton
Chicago, 1996

We are fighting terrorism on all fronts with a three-pronged strategy. First, we are working to rally a world coalition with zero tolerance for terrorism. Just this month I signed a law imposing harsh sanctions on foreign companies that invest in key sectors of the Iranian and Libyan economies...Second, we must give law enforcement the tools they need to take the fight to terrorists. We need new laws to crack down on money laundering and to prosecute and punish those who commit violent acts against American citizens abroad... Third, we will improve airport and air travel security. I have asked the Vice President to establish a commission and report back to me on ways to do this. But now we will install the most sophisticated bomb-detection equipment in all our major airports. We will search every airplane flying to or from America from another nation – every flight, every cargo hold, every cabin, every time.

Vice President Al Gore
Los Angeles, 2000

The price of freedom is sometimes high, but I never believed that America should turn inward. As a Senator, I broke with many in our party and voted to support the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait – because I believed America's vital interests were at stake ...I will keep America's defenses strong. I will make sure our armed forces continue to be the best-equipped, best-trained, and best-led in the entire world. In the last century, this nation, more than any other, freed the world from fascism and communism. But a newly free world still has dangers and challenges, both old and new. We must always have the will to defend our enduring interests – from Europe, to the Middle East, to Japan and Korea. We must strengthen our partnerships with Africa, Latin America, and the rest of the developing world.

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