The opposition’s response to the State of the Union speech is a thankless job, but Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) delivered an impassioned rebuttal to President Trump on Tuesday night.
Kennedy sought to contrast Trump’s divisive rhetoric, particularly on race, with a more inclusive Democratic message. Where Trump painted a dangerous world haunted by Islamic terrorists, Latino gangs and and an unstable North Korea, Kennedy talked about dignity and sought a stark contrast with the current administration.
“It would be easy to dismiss the past year as chaos. Partisanship. Politics. But it’s far bigger than that,” he said in his speech from Falls River, Massachusetts. “This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection. For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure.”
“Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count,” Kennedy said. “In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.”
His side of the aisle was pleased.
Grateful to hear @RepJoeKennedy’s encouraging words tonight. Thank you for making clear that the will of the American people is stronger than anything this President can or will do to divide us. Reminded me of the hope I felt hearing your grandfather and great-uncles speak. #SOTU— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) January 31, 2018
The #SOTUresponse is a tough gig. The reviews are almost always brutal. Given that, I'd say a solid, progressive and idealistic speech by Joe Kennedy III, and the live audience helped make it authentic. I'd say a good intro overall.— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) January 31, 2018
Kennedy’s full remarks are below.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is an absolute privilege to join you all tonight. We are here in Fall River, Massachusetts, a proud American city.
An American city built by immigrants. From textiles to robots, this is a place that knows how to make great things. The students are with us here this evening and the auto tech program at Diamond Regional Tech School carries on that legacy.
Like many American hometowns, Fall River has faced its share of storms. But the people here are tough. They fight for each other. They pull for their city. It is a fitting place to gather as our nation reflects on the state of our union.
This is a difficult task. Many have spent the last year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fractured fault lines across our country. We hear the choices of Americans who are forgotten and feel forsaken.
We see an economy that makes stocks floor, investor portfolios bulge and corporate profits climb, but fails to give workers their fair share of the reward. A government that struggles to keep itself open. Russia knee-deep in our democracy. An all-out war on environmental protection, a justice department rolling back civil rights by the day. Hatred and supremacy proudly marching in our streets. Bullets tearing through our classrooms. Concerts, and congregations. Targeting our safest sacred places.
And this nagging, sinking feeling, no matter your political beliefs, this is not right. This is not who we are.
Folks, it would be easy to dismiss this past year as chaos, partisanship, as politics, but it’s far, far bigger than that. This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us. They’re targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection. For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with, but something you measure by your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size.
Not to mention the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth, the color of your skin, the god of your prayers. Their record is rebuke to our highest American ideal, the belief that we are all worthy, that we are all equal, that we all count in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our god, and our government. That is the American promise.
But today, ladies and gentlemen, today that promise is being broken but praises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.
They’re turning life into a zero sum game for one to win, another must lose. Where we can guarantee America’s safety if we slash our safety net. Where we can extend health care in Mississippi if we gut it in Massachusetts. We can cut taxes for corporations today if we raise them on families tomorrow. Where we can take care of sick kids if we sacrifice dreamers. We are bombarded with one false choice after another. Coal miners or single moms? Rural communities or inner cities? The coast or the heartland?
As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh, a teacher in Tulsa, and day care worker in Birmingham are bitter rivals rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged towards those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son or daughter will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than a parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of an opioid addiction. So here is the answer the Democrats offer tonight. We choose both.
We fight. We fight for both, because the greatest, strongest, richest nation in the world should not have to leave anyone behind. We choose — we choose a better deal for all who call our country home. We choose a living wage and the paid leave and affordable child care your family needs to survive which is pensions that are solvent, trade cuts that are fair, roads and bridges that won’t rust away, a good education that you can afford.
We choose a health care system that offers you mercy, whether you suffer from cancer or depression or addiction. We choose an economy strong enough to boast record stock prices and brave enough to admit that top CEOs making 300 times their average worker is not right.
We choose Fall River. We choose the thousands of American communities whose roads aren’t paved with power or privilege but with an honest effort, with good faith and the resolve to build something better for your kids. That, that is our story.
It began the day our founding fathers and mothers set sail for a new world. Fleeing oppression and intolerance. It continued with every word of our tolerance. The audacity to declare that all men are created equal, an imperfect promise for a nation struggling to become a more perfect union. It grew with every suffragette step, every freedom rider’s voice, with every weary soul we welcome to our shores. And to all the dreamers out there watching tonight, let me be absolutely clear.
Vamos a luchar for ustedes. You are part of our story.
We will fight for you, and we will not walk away.
America, we carry that story on our shoulders. You swarmed to Washington last year to ensure that no parent has to worry if they can afford to save their child’s life. You proudly marched together last weekend thousands deep on the streets of Las Vegas and Philadelphia and Nashville.
You sat high atop our mom’s shoulders and held a sign that read “Build a wall and my generation will tear it down.”
You bravely say “me, too.” You steadfastly say “black lives matter.” You wade through floodwaters, battle hurricanes, brave wildfires and mud slides to save a stranger. You battle your own quiet battles every single day. You drag your weary bodies to that extra shift so that your families won’t feel the sting of scarcity.
You leave loved ones at home to defend our country overseas, patrol our neighborhoods at night. You serve. You rescue. You help. You heal. That more than any law or leader, debate or disagreement, that is what drives us towards progress. Bullies may land a punch. They may leave a mark. But they have never, not once in the history of our United States managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.
Politicians can be cheered for the promises they make. Our country will be judged by the promises we keep.
That is the measure of our character. That is who we are. Out of many, one.
Ladies and gentlemen, have faith. Have faith. The state of our union is hopeful. We’re resilient and enduring.
God bless you. God bless your families, and may god bless the United States of America. Thank you.