|Address by Senator Bob Dole, March 28, 2000|
Introductory Remarks by Senator Trent Lott
My colleagues in the Senate, our special family former staff members, and guests, but especially our good friend, Senator Bob Dole, and his lovely bride Elizabeth, welcome home. It seems quite natural seeing you here.
I should have asked Senator Dole to come up and join us on the platform, but somehow or other I thought he should sit in the leader's seat right there with Elizabeth.
I want to welcome you all again to the sixth presentation in the Leader's Lecture Series. This has been an exciting series.
We have had some fantastic presentations from great leaders of the Senate. And, of course, Vice President Bush was here. We look forward to hearing from other Vice Presidents and leaders of the Senate in the months ahead.
This has certainly been an enjoyable, I know, and worthwhile program. And we are delighted tonight to have our friend, our colleague, and one of America's favorite sons back with us.
Before I officially turn the podium over to Senator Dole, let me call on my colleague, my good friend, Senator Daschle, to speak on behalf of Bob's Democrat friends over these many years.
Introduction by Senator Tom Daschle
Thank you. On behalf of the entire Senate, we are so glad you are here. Welcome to the United States Senate. We are glad you are back.
A couple years ago at the South Dakota State Fair, I saw a young man wearing a T-shirt that said: "Play hard; play fair." You could use those same four words to describe our honoree tonight.
When he announced he was leaving this institution, Bob Dole said he wanted to be judged as "just a man." I said at the time that history would surely judge him as something more. History would judge him as a good leader, a good Senator, and a good American. His life over these last 4 years makes me more certain than ever that that is so. From his leadership on Kosovo to his work against cancer, Bob Dole continues to make important contributions to this Senate and to the Nation.
When you come from a small Midwestern State, you take pride in the achievements of other Midwesterners who make it to the top by working hard and playing fair. And if they're forced to overcome adversity along the way, your pride is, frankly, even greater. For those reasons, and many others, I was proud to be able to serve with Bob in the Senate for 10 years. I am proud today to be able to call him a friend.
It was during the 18 months that he and I served as leaders of our parties that I got to know him best. The conditions for a good working relationship, at least from my perspective, could not have been much worse. It was January of 1995. Democrats had just done the impossible. We lost a majority in both the House and the Senate.
Not only was Senator Dole now the majority leader -- a position I had hoped to hold -- it was also widely assumed he would run against a Democratic President the following year. Add to that the general tumult of those times on the Hill and, by all rights, he and I should have had a lousy relationship.
The fact that we did not was due to Bob Dole -- to his civility, to his pragmatism, to his quick wit and self-effacing humor, and to his love of this country and to this United States Senate. His sense of fairness and decency is a standard for which everyone in public life should aim.
Senator Dole loves his party. That was always something very clear to me. But there is something even more important to him than party, and that is principle. He showed that when he broke ranks with his party to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 1982.
He showed it when he worked with someone I respected all of my public life, George McGovern, on landmark nutrition legislation. I will always remember his farewell speech, in which Senator Dole recalled that working with George McGovern to try to ease hunger in America was one of the proudest achievements in his Senate career.
His commitment to principle was evident in 1991, when he and our colleague, Tom Harkin, arguably did more for the disabled than anyone in our Nation's history. It was then when, against political advice, he fashioned a resolution on Bosnia that led to broad support for our troops being stationed there, and which ultimately helped end the terrible suffering there, too.
I learned a lot from Bob Dole during the 18 months we served together as leaders. I was always impressed when Senator Dole would come to my office for a meeting -- the seasoned leader coming to the newcomer, the majority leader coming to the minority leader's office. The first time it happened, I wondered if it might be a psychological trick to throw me off balance.
I quickly realized it was one more demonstration of Bob Dole's grace and humility. He was sure enough of himself that he didn't need the trappings of an office. But I must say, I later learned that it was in coming to my office that he could always determine when the meeting was over.
That's a smart leader.
He is more than "just a man." For me, he continues to be a living, breathing lesson in leadership. It was an honor to serve with him, and it is an honor now to welcome him back home.
Introduction by Senator Trent Lott
Well done, my colleague. You certainly speak for so many of our colleagues here tonight who served with Bob Dole and others who can't be with us.
Before I go forward and actually introduce Bob -- or present him, because he doesn't need any introduction to this group -- I think it's important that I recognize one of his truly greatest assets, some would say clearly his greatest asset, a lady who has served her country very well and honorably also, the lady of the South, of North Carolina, who had a tremendous influence in administrations of our former Presidents, as Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Labor, who served at the White House, but many people will remember her the most for her service at the Red Cross and for the many times she has flown into various parts of this country when people were hurting, when there was disaster, when people were in need, and she was there assuring those people that the Red Cross and the American people, in fact, through the Red Cross and through various Government agencies, would be there to provide help.
She is a great lady. She has done a tremendous job in her leadership roles, and also as the spouse of Bob Dole.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elizabeth Dole.
You know, there are some positions of authority and prestige in this country that have lifetime tenure: the Supreme Court, of course, and other places such as the Papacy and British royalty. We have never really had it in the United States Senate. But I'm sure that if Bob Dole had chosen, he could have had lifetime tenure as the Republican leader in the Senate. In fact, he holds the record in length of service as the Republican leader -- sometimes in the minority, Tom, and sometimes in the majority.
He was truly loved by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. On many occasions, he expressed that love and received it from his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle here in the Senate.
One of the great moments I will always remember in my experience in the Senate was Bob's last day -- not because I would be his successor, but because of what he had to say, the beauty and emotion of that moment and the outpouring of respect that everybody in the Chamber and in the Gallery had for him. It was really a beautiful sight. The love and appreciation for his leadership in so many legislative roles, which Tom so well expressed in his remarks, will make that a memory in my mind as long as I serve here.
But I do have one problem, Bob. When you left, you didn't leave the operator's manual to this place. You took it with you. Although I think, from our earlier discussion, you did give it to Tom Daschle, because sometimes I think Tom got the operator's manual when you left.
Bob has all the attributes that you need to be a national leader. As I thought about Bob and his life, beginning in Russell, Kansas, and all that he has been through over these many years -- in local elective office as a county attorney after he returned from World War II, and then in the State legislature, in Congress, in the House, in the Senate, in leadership roles in the Senate, both in the minority and the majority, as I said, as chairman of the Finance Committee, as chairman of his national party, as the nominee of his party for Vice President, and as a nominee of his party for President -- what a life.
But when you look at Bob Dole and you think about what he has done, the leadership he has provided for this country, he reminds me of what we have talked so much about lately: the greatest generation.
When you think about it, if you ask: Who are these people? Who was the greatest generation? It is our fathers and our uncles and those men and women who lived through the Depression, led us through the war, World War II, fought in that war, came back home and got educated, provided leadership at the local level, and then came on to lead this country. This is the generation that fought the wars. This is the generation that defeated fascism and Naziism and communism and all the "isms." If you really think about it, Bob Dole epitomizes that generation.
You have been a great credit to your country, Bob Dole. You have set an example for so many of us to follow and to try to emulate. Most of us will never be able to do it all. You started young, and you did some things that endured, some things that the rest of us will never have to endure, frankly, because you did.
He didn't reach that top office he sought, the Presidency. But in a way, I think there is higher position in the minds of American men and women. It is a role that only so few have achieved in our country.
When you look back in history, of course, the Adamses, John and John Quincy, Grover Cleveland and Jimmy Carter were Presidents, and then they achieved a role or a position in the minds and the hearts of the American people that exceeded the elective office they had sought. I think Bob has reached that position.
Bob is loved and appreciated not so much for what he did, even though he truly is respected for that, but for who he is, the stands he is willing to take, the positions he is willing to advocate, sometimes that are not popular, sometimes against the great majority opinion, sometimes against his own party, but always true to himself and to his own inner compass.
Bob, I think you have achieved that role. Even though you are part of that greatest generation, the thing that really makes you special is the kind of human being you are. You will always be remembered and loved and revered in this institution. You will always be appreciated by the American people.
For those of us in this Chamber, you will always be our colleague, our friend, our leader, and one of America's favorite sons.
Ladies and gentlemen, join me in welcoming to this Leader's Lecture Series Senator Bob Dole.
Address by Senator Bob Dole
I am overwhelmed with the great tributes by the two leaders. I don't know where they were when I needed them.
It is a great honor to be here and to see some of my colleagues. Since I left the Senate, there are 25 new Senators. Since Senator Thurmond came to this Chamber, there are 303 Senators who have come and gone. And some are still here.
This is a great honor. I am pleased, of course, my wife Elizabeth is here and my daughter Robin, my former Chief of Staff, Sheila Burke; Jo-Anne Coe, former Secretary of the Senate; Joyce McCluney, former Deputy Sergeant of Arms; my Kansas delegation; and, of course, my good colleague, the most popular statesperson in Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum Baker. And the fellow she's with is Howard Baker.
And a lot of friends, as I say.
In fact, one of our friends, Larry Harrison -- you may remember Larry; he worked in the men's restroom area for years -- died just last night of cancer.
Trent mentioned coming home. There's an old saying that "Home is where the heart is." Even though I have been gone from this building for nearly 4 years -- I haven't been back but two or three times -- a part of my heart will always remain here. So, as the other speakers have been honored, I am very grateful for this opportunity.
The voters of Kansas granted me the privilege of serving in the Capitol for over 35 years -- 27-plus in the Senate. And my Republican colleagues granted me the privilege of occupying the leader's office across the hall for over 11 years.
I was a little nervous at one point when Senator Byrd came in to look it over after they retook the majority, but he was kind enough not to take the office.
Hubert Humphrey once said about his own speeches that "I didn't think they were too long. I enjoyed every minute of them."
Well, in that spirit, I enjoyed every minute of my time in the United States Senate. In fact, the question most often asked of me since leaving the Senate is whether or not I miss it, to which there can only be one honest answer. The answer is yes. I miss the history and I miss the tradition of this place, particularly this majestic room, where one can almost hear the passionate eloquence of such giants as Clay, Calhoun, Webster -- and Thurmond.
Eighteen-fifty-nine, is that right?
Yes. I miss the chance to debate on a daily basis the issues of our times. There are times -- not many -- when I even miss the quorum calls. But what I miss most of all about the Senate is the people in the Senate -- not just my colleagues or former colleagues but the people who make the place run.
So gathered here this evening are Senators and former Senators and probably one or two who want to be a Senator, those who worked on my staff and those who helped all of us in many, many ways in the Capitol. But as I look around the room and look in the Gallery, all I see is friends.
In fact, as I reflect on my years in the Senate, what first comes to mind is not legislative battles won or lost, but friendships that were forged. Thomas Jefferson, who was inaugurated President in the room just below us, once said that: "Friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life. And thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine." Much of the sunshine in my life stems from the people in this room and many others here in spirit or memory.
While I do miss the Senate, I have no regrets about the decision to leave. For one thing, I have discovered that there is indeed life after the Senate. I am enjoying the private sector, as well as the occasional opportunity to make a difference in the public arena. And -- who knows? -- there are those who speculate come next January you just might be looking at the husband of the President of the Senate.
You have to think about that for a while, Elizabeth.
Seriously, I have looked forward to this evening ever since receiving the invitation from the majority leader, Trent Lott. I commend him for his vision in beginning the Leader's Lecture Series.
In preparing to come up here, because it's kind of intimidating to come up here with all the power that I see in this room, I first read very carefully the lectures of the five previous speakers. I strongly recommend it. Anybody who hasn't read those and was not able to attend, or maybe watch them, would have a better understanding of the Senate and its unique role if they just took 30 minutes or 40 minutes to read each of those.
Lessons in Leadership
I am especially honored to be in the company of the five leaders who have preceded me to this lecture. Each in his own time has taught us important lessons about life and about leadership.
From President Bush, I learned that words exchanged in the heat of the campaign needn't impair close friendships. Indeed, they can and must be set aside in order to realize what is best for America.
From George Mitchell, I learned anew something that Adlai Stevenson had in mind when he called principled partisanship the "lifeblood of democracy." However fiercely partisan we might have been when debating politics, we were fiercely nonpartisan when applying the rules of the Senate. As it happens, Senator Mitchell and I are now in the same law firm, and we take some pride in the fact that it took us only 15 minutes to gridlock the entire operation.
From Howard Baker, I learned that one of the most important qualities a leader can possess is patience. He never confused civility with weakness, nor generosity of spirit with surrender of principle.
From my friend Robert Byrd, I learned a lot of Roman history. None of it have I been able to use, but I learned a lot of it.
We all continue to learn that this institution can only survive if it operates by rules. And no one knows the rules of the Senate he loves more than Robert Byrd.
And from Mike Mansfield, I learned to value straight talk as truthful as it was taciturn. Mike Mansfield, without question, holds the record for the most questions answered in media appearances. The press would ask countless questions, and he would say: "Yep," "nope," or "maybe."
Pretty soon they were out of questions. The program had barely started.
Of course, Mike Mansfield didn't have to say much. As the late Warren Magnuson pointed out, "If you've got the votes, you don't need a speech. If you need a speech, you don't have the votes."
And since Senator Mansfield led majorities of 64, 66, and in one Congress even 68 Senators, he rarely needed a speech. In fact, while some people count sheep as they go to sleep, I used to count Senators. I would lie awake at night trying to get to 51 or to 60, and I would occasionally dream about how much easier it would have been with majorities like those Mansfield had, or L.B.J.'s 65-35 margin in the 86th Congress, or the 61 votes Robert Byrd had in the 95th Congress, or even George Mitchell's 57 in the 102nd and 103rd Congresses. I know Senator Lott, with 55, would like more, but Senator Baker's high was 54, and mine was 53.
The last time there were 55 Republican Senators was in 1929, which is pretty impressive considering there were only 48 States. And Strom was then a Democrat.
Memories of 10,000 Days
Now, age may or may not bestow wisdom, but, as some of us know, it carries certain privileges; among them, the right to remember and perhaps distill whatever perspective comes with experience. There are countless memories wrapped up in the nearly 10,000 days I served in the United States Senate -- 10,000 days. I'm not going to speak about each one of them because I know we have limited time. But I would like to pick out just a few that stand out. As I tried to do this and whittle it down, it was difficult.
Like all of you here, I remember the day I took the oath of office and signed the book, as Senators had done before and since. It was January 3, 1969. I sat in the back row in a seat that Senator Susan Collins now occupies. I was sandwiched between Arizona's two Senators. Paul Fannin sat on my left, and Barry Goldwater, naturally enough, sat on my right. Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen occupied the leaders' desks. I must say, I was really impressed as I looked around and saw these giants I heard about when I was in the House.
There were two Senators who were most in my thoughts that day. One was Dan Inouye and the other was the late Phil Hart of Michigan. Dan and Phil and I first met 20 years earlier -- believe it or not, 20 years earlier -- when we found ourselves together at Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. Phil was less severely wounded, and he would tirelessly spend all day running errands for the rest of us. He was, without a doubt, one of the finest men I ever knew.
On my last day as a Senator, I wrote a note to my former Percy Jones colleague from Hawaii, who back then weighed about 115 pounds and was the best bridge player in the hospital. I appointed him the chair of the Percy Jones Hospital Caucus, and gave him my proxy to vote on any legislation that came up concerning the hospital. It was a safe bet because the hospital had closed many years before.
But we were friends then; and we were friends all through Congress. Let me add that back in 1969, the vast majority of Senators had worn the uniform of our country. While there are still veterans in the Senate -- and I see some World War II vets as I look around -- the number with military experience has dramatically decreased over the past few decades -- and will continue to do so, we all hope. We hope there are no more conflicts and no more wars.
Perhaps some of you have heard me repeat a story that was told about General George Marshall. During World War II, Marshall was asked if America had a secret weapon. He replied that America's secret weapon was the "best darned kids in the world."
As some of you know, I have devoted a great deal of time these past few years in trying to help raise $100 million for the construction of a World War II memorial. I am proud to say, we now have $84 million net. We are only $16 million short. If I could get this here this afternoon, it would really take a load off. I'll get to that later.
But this memorial is not for the World War II veterans, for Fritz or Frank, or others, or Strom; it is to remind future generations of the sacrifices that are at times necessary to preserve liberty and freedom.
Along with remembering the contributions and sacrifices made by our veterans with memorials, I have always carried with me the importance of remembering them in this building -- in the Capitol. That is why those of us here must make certain the concerns of those who have or will risk their lives for our country are never allowed to slip through the cracks.
The second day I imagine all Senators remember is the day you made your first major floor speech, or "maiden speech," as it was known years ago. For me, it was April 14, 1969 -- nearly three and a half months after being sworn in. In those days, freshmen Senators were still seen but rarely heard.
There are some issues you tackle because it's your duty as a Senator from your State. But one of the great things about the Senate is that it also gives you the opportunity to make a difference on issues on which you can offer some personal insight and expertise.
April 14, 1969, was the 24th anniversary of the day I was wounded in Italy. My first floor speech was about challenges faced by disabled Americans. Those issues remained on my agenda throughout all the years I was here, and every year, on about April 14, depending on whether we were in or out of session, I made a statement on the Senate floor about the problems of the disabled.
One thing I will always remember -- and others here will remember -- is the sight of all the wheelchairs on the White House lawn when President Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law, nearly a decade ago -- 10 years this July. I want to say thank you to the Senators -- and there are many here, on both sides -- who worked on this issue over the years. We thank you for it.
In fact, Phil Hart was a good friend of mine. We were in the hospital together. Dan knew him there, too. But he once said he regarded politics, and I quote, "as an opportunity to make a more humane life for everybody." And so it is, especially if Senators borrow from their personal experiences to make a difference for others.
The third day I want to recall this evening is November 4, 1980, election day. My first 12 years in the Senate were spent in the minority, and the pundits predicted that wouldn't change for years to come. Well, Ronald Reagan proved the experts wrong, and his coattails gave Republicans a Senate majority for the first time in a quarter century. I can still hear the excitement in Howard Baker's voice when he called me in Topeka at 2 o'clock in the morning to tell me I was going to be the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I said: "Howard, that's great, but who's going to tell Russell Long?"
We haven't told Russell yet.
In the Majority
It didn't take me long to realize the vast difference between serving in the minority and serving in the majority. It is more than just changing titles from "ranking member" to "chairman" or learning how to use a gavel, little things like that. It is a change of mind-set as well as offices. It is the sobering realization that leadership entails responsibility; above all, the responsibility to be responsible. If you don't deliver, you will have your feet held to the fire. I still marvel at how Howard Baker convinced a party caucus that had been out of power and out in the cold for 24 years that we could make history as well as make headlines.
By the way, upon reflection, it seems to me that 24 years is just about the right time for one party to have uninterrupted control in the Senate. So, to my patient Democrat friends here tonight, be assured, your time is coming, according to my calculation, in 2018.
No issue so bedeviled the new majority than saving Social Security. Sound familiar? Back in 1981, along with seven other lawmakers, I was appointed to the National Commission on Social Security Reform. The committee was chaired by Alan Greenspan, who even then regarded any display of exuberance as irrational. Given the politically charged atmosphere surrounding the issue, the commission remained stalemated for nearly a year and a consensus seemed impossible.
Then, on January 3, 1983, the day the Senate reconvened, my commission colleague, Pat Moynihan, approached me on the Senate floor. Notwithstanding the odds or the obstacles, we knew we had to keep trying. And we did -- not just us, but Bob Ball, who is here as a guest tonight and was one of the authors, and Bob Myers, who did a great job. We did. Within two weeks, a compromise was reached that allowed Social Security recipients to receive their checks on time. And that system is going to be sound, according to Mr. Ball, who told me, until the year 2034, and maybe even beyond.
We reached an agreement only because no one got everything and everyone gave something. We succeeded in the spirit of Everett Dirksen, who liked to say: "I am a man of fixed and unbending principle, and one of my principles is flexibility."
I have always kept this in mind, especially after another memorable day, November 29, 1984, when, right in this room, I was chosen to succeed Howard Baker as Republican leader. I am still surprised Ted Stevens didn't win -- and so is he, I think.
Keeping Your Word
But the next 11 years would witness their share of successes and failures. I like to believe there were more of the former than the latter. If so, it was because I always tried to keep two things in mind.
First, I remembered what most of us learn around here. Leadership does not necessarily mean total victory. Ronald Reagan once told all of us: If you can get 90 percent of what you want, or even 80 or 70, then it's a good deal.
Secondly, I knew that nothing else I did would matter very much if I ever forfeited the trust of my colleagues. As we all learn around here, if you don't keep your word, it doesn't make much difference what agenda you try to advance.
Tom, I remember one time I offered an amendment that you thought was your amendment. You may recall that. We vitiated the proceedings. You offered the amendment, and it passed. I don't think it would have passed if I had offered it, in any event.
So while I disagreed often with the leaders who sat across the aisle from me -- Senators Byrd, Mitchell, and Daschle -- there was never a time that I know of when we distrusted each other. We might question the other side's ideas, but rarely its motives, and never its patriotism.
Let me be clear in saying that as the majority leader, I saw no conflict in keeping my word while pulling out all the stops to win. I especially recall the events of May 9, 1985. My first priority as majority leader was to do something more than just nickel and dime the deficit. We -- mostly Pete Domenici -- put together a bold plan that would save $135 billion over 3 years. Naturally, it contained something to offend every Senator, not to mention every voter.
In counting heads, it looked like we were headed for a tie vote: 49 Republicans plus one courageous Democrat, the late Ed Zorinsky of Nebraska. The plan was for the tie to be broken by then-Vice President Bush. And then, suddenly, Pete Wilson was taken to Bethesda for an emergency appendectomy. He said later he wished it was a lobotomy.
I called his doctors and asked if Pete could physically withstand a trip to Capitol Hill. How long could he stay? Would he have to be sedated? It occurred to me, in any event. Or would he be sufficiently alert to take part in rollcall votes?
I thought about the sedation many times of some of my colleagues.
Well, the doctors recommended he not make the trip. But Pete had other ideas. I also promised him good press coverage.
That will get any Senator out of bed, I think.
I will never forget the sound of the ambulance sirens at 2 in the morning, or the sight of Pete in his pajamas and a robe, sitting in a wheelchair and hooked up to an IV, being rolled into the Senate Chamber to a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.
But, unfortunately, the story didn't end there. One thing you learn as leader is that biting a bullet carries the risk that it may explode in your face, which is exactly what happened when Don Regan at the White House, Tip O'Neill, and House Republicans made a separate deal that, in my opinion, avoided the hard choices. In the next election, Republicans lost our Senate majority, and more than a few pundits believed the vote on the deficit package was a contributing factor.
The Courage to Act on Principle
Perhaps the most difficult day -- there were a lot of difficult days -- of my years in the Senate was nearly 10 years later, on March 2, 1995. The Republicans were back in the Senate majority, after an 8-year absence, and in the House majority after a 40-year absence. One of the top items on our agenda was sending the balanced budget amendment to the States. President Clinton was doing all he could to defeat it. Despite that, there were 14 Senate Democrats who would vote for the amendment. That meant we would need all 53 Republicans to achieve the two-thirds vote necessary.
We were on the brink of success when Senator Hatfield told me, in no uncertain terms, he was going to vote no. I pleaded with Mark to change his mind. I went to his office. I had Elizabeth call him. I tried everything. But Mark was a man of his word. He said: I can't vote for it, but I will resign. Then you'll have just 99 Senators, and you only need 66 votes for two-thirds.
I rejected Mark's proposal. While I strongly disagreed with his position, I also respected any Senator's right to vote their conscience.
If I could change the past, would I have done things differently had I known that the White House and House of Representatives would cut a deal on the budget? Would I have accepted Senator Hatfield's offer to resign?
I believe the answer is no. For, in looking back at my career, as you will do someday, it is clear to me that defeat is as much a part of life as victory. Maybe a lucky few get through without some big setbacks or disappointments, but I never met such a person. I am not certain I would want to meet such a person, because I wouldn't envy them in the least.
I think one of life's great milestones is when a person can look back and be almost as thankful for the setbacks as for the victories. Gradually it dawns on us that success and failure are not polar opposites. They are parts of the same picture -- the picture of a full life, where you have your ups and you have your downs.
After all, as everybody in this room knows, none of us can ever lose unless we first find the courage to try. Losing means that at least you were in the race. It means that when the whistle sounded, life did not find you watching from the sidelines.
Not far from this historic Chamber stands a memorial to a Senator whose greatness is universally acknowledged, notwithstanding the controversies which once swirled around his name. A Senator's Senator, Robert Taft, was the Senate majority leader from January 1953 until his death in July of that year.
In the words of one admirer, Taft "lost no sleep nights worrying that he would be found out. He lost much sleep over the fate of his country. He knew to the end that his was a moral attitude toward life and that he'd given to his country his last full measure of devotion." In short, Taft's conscience was clear. Nearly half a century after his death, the Taft Carillon on the brow of Capitol Hill reminds us not of his greatness but of his virtue.
Virtue resists easy definition. It can't be measured by a pollster or massaged by a spin doctor. Pragmatism can be a virtue. But under other circumstances, so can the willingness to risk defeat for one's deepest convictions.
The latter virtue was on display in this room on April 2, 1987. President Reagan had decided to veto the $87.5 billion highway bill. My job as minority leader was to sustain that veto. Senator Byrd's job was to override the veto.
At first we thought we prevailed by a single vote. Of course, we hadn't reckoned with Senator Byrd. He moved to reconsider the vote, and convinced the late Senator Terry Sanford to change his vote. The vote came the next day. In the interim, I met with the 13 Republicans who had voted to override the veto to see if any would switch and provide the margin of victory. No such luck.
At this point, President Reagan said he wished to meet with the Republican Senators. Not wanting to see the President embarrassed by what I believed was a losing effort, I advised against him coming to the Hill. He came anyway to make his case in person. I can still see him pleading with Steve Symms -- Steve was here earlier; I think he had to go -- almost begging him.
In the end, our one-vote majority turned into a one-vote loss. Yet, while we may have lost on the highway bill, the bigger loss would have been to do nothing. As any true leader, President Reagan knew that success is never final nor defeat fatal as long as you have the courage to act on principle.
Making the Hard Decisions
Leaders stand ready to make the hard decisions and to live with the consequences. They don't pass it off to somebody else. They do what has to be done. And at their best, they accept change, even while adhering to the values that are timeless: to duty and decency, to courage and sacrifice, to public conscience and personal responsibility -- senatorial values, democratic values, American values.
One President who had been Vice President, President of the Senate, for 8 years and who experienced both victories and defeats at their most extreme levels was Richard Nixon. Whatever you thought of the man, I believe that anyone who heard his remarks on January 20, 1994, at a luncheon arranged to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of his inauguration as President, will forever remember the event. There were over 100 past and present Senators, from both parties, and Members of the House gathered in the Mansfield Room. It was crowded.
After lunch, President Nixon stood and delivered, without a note, one of the most compelling speeches I have ever had the privilege of hearing. You could hear a pin drop as he took us on a world tour -- country by country, almost -- analyzing the political situation in country after country after country, as John Warner, one of his early advance men, knows, only Nixon could do.
As he spoke, I recalled the moving eulogy the President had delivered following the funeral of his wife Pat less than a year before. The President had told the story of how his first granddaughter, Jennie Eisenhower, had come to him and to Pat to ask what she should call them. Pat thought that "grandma" sounded a bit old and decided, "Just call me ma." And President Nixon answered his granddaughter's question by saying: "You can call me anything, because I've been called everything."
As nervous laughter swept through the room, I looked over at George McGovern, who, at my invitation, had joined the Congressional delegation attending Mrs. Nixon's funeral. Later in the day, a reporter asked George why he should honor the wife of a man with whom he had waged a sometimes bitter battle for the White House. And Senator McGovern replied: "You can't keep on campaigning forever." George was right.
Bob Strauss and I used to do that when he was chairman of the Democratic Party and I was chairman of the Republican Party at the same time. What happened? We became lifelong friends.
There is a time and place for everything, including partisan politics. It was a lesson I tried to put to use on my last day as Senator on June 11, 1996. Many of my good friends and campaign advisers urged me to take advantage of the occasion. With all the media attention sure to be focused on my farewell address, it seemed the perfect opportunity to contrast my agenda with that of the Clinton administration. Drive a wedge. Score some points.
Others thought I could help myself by taking a few parting shots at Congress as an institution. I didn't take their advice, politically sound as it might have been, and for a simple reason. Like everybody here, I respected the Senate too much to debase it by giving a campaign speech. I cared too much for my colleagues to deliberately inflame partisan divisions, making things even harder for my successor.
Now, as I said then, I am a plainspoken man with a Midwestern preference for candor over concealment. Frankly, it has always seemed to me that some people in and out of the political arena take themselves a little too seriously. Others confuse America's fortunes with their own ambitions. From personal observation, I can attest that few of the latter ever got very far. Yet somehow America survives and even prospers.
Of course, any Senator brings ambition into the fight. Certainly I did. But ambition has to be allied to a cause bigger than oneself, greater than any election or political party.
I also happen to believe that it is easier to get things done in this place with a sense of humor. After all, the United States is probably the only country on Earth that puts the pursuit of happiness right after life and liberty among our God-given rights. Laughter and liberty go well together. Indeed, as a weapon against injustice, ridicule can be as effective as moral outrage. I tried "outrage" in 1996.
Consider the irrepressible Barry Goldwater. On being blackballed by an anti-Semitic country club in Phoenix, Goldwater responded: "Since I'm only half Jewish, can I join if I only play nine holes?"
Long before there was an American dream, there was a dream of America. Jefferson captured it in a single, luminous sentence when he declared: "Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master."
"Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master."
Loving liberty as much as they hated tyranny, Jefferson and his contemporaries believed that the greatness of America lay not in the power of her Government but in the freedom of her people. At the same time, their democratic faith led them to reject bloodlines and bank accounts alike as the accurate measures of a man's worth.
Unfettered by ancient hatreds, the founders raised a lofty standard -- admittedly too high for their own generation to obtain, yet a continuing source of inspiration to their descendants -- for whom America is nothing if not a work in progress. In my lifetime, I have seen American dreamers, many of whom pursued their dreams in the Senate, crush Nazi tyranny, destroy Jim Crow, split the atom, eliminate the scourge of polio, feed the hungry, house the homeless -- with the Byrd-Dole bill, it happened to be -- plant our flag on the surface of the moon, and belatedly yet emphatically recognize the talents of women and others once excluded from the mainstream.
It is precisely because I have experienced so much of our past that I have no fears -- no fears -- for our future, not so long as this institution continues to attract men and women who are patriots as well as partisans, legislators who combine idealism and realism, and who answer to posterity rather than polltakers. Anyone can take a poll; only a true leader can move a nation.
Thank you very much.