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Address by Senator Mike Mansfield, March 24, 1998

Former Majority Leader Mike Mansfield Speaks in the Old Senate Chamber

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Introduction by Senator Trent Lott

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the Senate, present and past, Members of our Senate family, and distinguished guests.

The Old Senate Chamber in which we meet this evening is indeed, to borrow a phrase made famous by one of our number, a "place of resounding deeds." It is a hallowed hall.

The modern Senate Chamber, with its brilliant lighting and prying cameras, is only a short walk down the corridor from this room, but it is a century and a half removed from the momentous events that took place here.

In this room, Webster thundered and Clay maneuvered, while the fading Calhoun looked darkly into his country's future.

It is a wonder that we do not still hear the echoes of their voices: Jeff Davis and Charles Sumner, Thomas Hart Benton and Stephen Douglas, William Seward and Judah Benjamin, all the giants who dealt, rightly or wrongly, wisely or otherwise, with some of the most momentous decisions our Republic has ever faced.

We are still in their debt, for we still can learn from them. We can learn, from their example, to identify and to appreciate those among us who are worthy to stand as their successors.

Such a Senator we honor this evening, and he honors us by inaugurating the series. Michael Joseph Mansfield, Democrat of Montana, Ambassador to Japan under Presidents of both parties, this body's longest-serving Majority Leader, is our natural choice to begin what I hope will become a continuing part of the life and the lore of the United States Senate.

This chamber itself stands as a monument to Senator Mansfield's leadership. In the early 1970s, with the assistance of my predecessor, John C. Stennis, he overcame opposition in Congress to funding this magnificent restoration. He also arranged the creation of the Senate Commission on Art to manage that restoration and to administer the Senate's museum programs. The Office of Senate Curator and the Senate Historical Office are the direct result of his commitment to promoting deeper and broader public understanding of this institution's rich past and promising future. The Lecture Series we launch here this evening will be shared with the Nation. The narrow confines of this historic room limited the number of guests we could invite to be here in person, but our proceedings are being carried into millions of homes through television.

The Senators who once held sway in this room could not have foreseen the day when our words and images would instantaneously be brought to the American people in their homes. Perhaps that sums up just how much we have changed and how our times have changed from that of the Senators that served in this chamber.

And yet, in another light, we are not so distant at all. Despite their period dress and antique speech, the men who worked here (for, in those days, there were only men) confronted questions which, in their broadest sense, are familiar to us as well. Questions like the relationship between law, on the one hand, and justice on the other. Questions of equity versus equality. Questions about the competing values of regionalism, individual rights, and the national interest.

Those same questions are weighed by every Senator today, and they will remain pertinent and pressing when we who are here tonight recede into history ourselves. For those questions are part and parcel of representative democracy.

The form of government that we have rejects hereditary standing and denies the trappings of grandeur; and so, for continuity and for tradition, it must rely on the common memory of our people.

I had occasion to discuss with Senator Byrd this idea of a lecture series a month or two ago. We talked about how there were some great memories, great thoughts by men who have been leaders of the Senate and former Vice Presidents, and that we should have a way to hear those words and record what they had to say. That was the genesis of what we are doing here tonight. Our speaker will enrich the memory of the Senate by sharing with us the wisdom and the insights that can be gained only by a lifetime of service to free people.

For Senator Mansfield, that service began at the age of fourteen, when he managed to enlist in the United States Navy during the First World War. It continued with stints in both the Army and the Marine Corps, through a distinguished teaching career, and through 34 years in Congress, 24 of them in the Senate, representing the State of Montana. Thereafter, for twelve years, under two Presidents, he represented, some would say embodied, the United States as our Ambassador to Japan.

His mainstay through it all has been his wife Maureen. Their partnership of 65 years, and still counting, has been a remarkable testimony to the power of faith and family.

We have had few like him. But then, with the good Lord's help, it only takes a few. I am honored, indeed I am humbled, to present to you and to the nation Senator Mike Mansfield.

Address by Senator Mike Mansfield

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your very kind introduction. I am deeply appreciative of what you have had to say, even though I think you put too much icing on the cake. I also wanted to thank my old associates from the Montana office and the Senate office who are here with the rest of us this evening. I also wish to greet old friends for the first time in many years and to recall many happy memories with you. The real credit of whatever standing I have achieved in life should be given to my wife Maureen, who, unfortunately, could not be with us this evening. She was and is my inspiration. She encouraged and literally forced a dropout eighth grader to achieve a university degree and at the same time make up his high school credits. She sold her life insurance and gave up her job as a Butte High School teacher to make it possible. She initiated me into politics--the House, the Senate and, diplomatically speaking, the Tokyo Embassy. She gave of herself to make something of me. She has always been the one who has guided, encouraged and advised me. She made the sacrifices and, really, deserved the credits, but I was the one who was honored. She has always been the better half of our lives together and, without her coaching, her understanding, and her love, I would not be with you tonight. What we did, we did together.

In short, I am what I am because of her.

I would like to dedicate my remarks tonight to my three great loves: Maureen, Montana, and the United States Senate.

First Among Equals

It is an honor to "kick off" the first in the Senate Lecture Series with the Majority Leader, Senator Trent Lott, and the Minority Leader, Senator Tom Daschle, in attendance. They represent the continuity of the office first held by Democratic Senator John Kern of Indiana in 1913 and by Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts in 1917. They--the two leaders--represent positions of trust and responsibility in today's Senate. They are the two among one hundred whom their respective parties have placed first among equals. Incidentally, it is my understanding--and Robert Byrd can correct me on this if I am wrong--that less than 3,000 men and women have served as Senators since the beginning of our Republic. They had been the "favored few" among the hundreds of millions in their overall constituencies.

Twenty-two years ago, on June 16, 1976, an audience of Senators and their guests filled this chamber, much as you are doing this evening. On that occasion, the Senate convened here in formal legislative session. Their purpose was similar to ours today. Carving out a few moments from crowded and distracting schedules, those Senators of the 94th Congress came to honor the history and the traditions of the United States Senate. On that occasion, they came to rededicate this grand chamber--to celebrate the completion of a five-year-long restoration project.

The idea for this room's restoration to its appearance of the 1850s may have first surfaced in 1935. In that year, the Supreme Court, a tenant since 1860, moved into its new building across the street. I know for sure that the idea received close attention in the early 1960s. This once-elegant chamber had become an all-purpose room--whose uses included conference committee meetings, catered luncheons and furniture storage. Where once stood the stately mahogany desks of Clay, Webster and Calhoun, there rested, on occasion, stark iron cots. These cots accommodated teams of Senators on call throughout the night to make a quorum against round-the-clock filibusters. By the late 1960s, the idea for this room's restoration moved toward reality --and the 1976 ceremony--thanks largely to the wisdom, the vision, and the persistence of the legendary Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis.

And we now have Senator Stennis' immediate successor, Senator Trent Lott, to thank for inaugurating his "Leader's Lecture Series." Here is another welcome opportunity, on a periodic basis, to consider the foundations and development of this United States Senate. Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Leader.

There are very few advantages to outliving one's generation. One of them is the opportunity to see how historians describe and evaluate that generation. Some historians do it better than others.

One such historian is Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. As all of you know, Robert Byrd has combined a participant's insights with a scholar's detachment to produce an encyclopedic four-volume history of the Senate. Near the end of his first volume appear two chapters devoted to the 1960s and 1970s. Robert has entitled them "Mike Mansfield's Senate."

Now, I have no doubt that he would be the first to acknowledge the accuracy of what I am about to say. If, during my time as Senate leader, a pollster had asked each Senator the question, "Whose Senate is this?" that pollster would surely have received 99 separate answers --and they would all have been right. Only for purposes of literary convenience or historic generalization could we ever acknowledge that one person--at least during my time--could shape such a body in his own image.

The Senate and Its Leadership

Senator Byrd has been doubly generous in assigning me a seat in the Senate's Pantheon. Volume Three of his history series contains forty-six so-called "classic speeches" delivered in the Senate over the past century and a half. Among them is an address that was prepared for delivery in the final weeks of the 1963 session. My topic was "The Senate and Its Leadership."

By mid-1963, various Democratic Senators had begun to express publicly their frustration with the lack of apparent progress in advancing the Kennedy administration's legislative initiatives. Other Senators were less open in their criticism -- but they were equally determined that I, as majority leader, should begin to knock some heads together. After all, they reasoned, Democrats in the Senate enjoyed a nearly two-to-one party ratio. With those numbers, anything should be possible under the lash of disciplined leadership. Sixty-five Democrats, thirty-five Republicans! Think of it, Senator Daschle. Of course, I use the word "enjoy" loosely. Ideological differences within our party seriously undercut that apparent numerical advantage.

I decided the time had come to put down my views in a candid address. There would then be no doubt as to where I stood. If some of my party colleagues believed that mine was not the style of leadership that suited them, they would be welcome to seek a change.

I had selected a Friday afternoon, when little else would be going on, to discuss "The Senate and Its Leadership." The date was Friday, November 22, 1963.

That day's tragic events put an end to any such speechmaking. The following week, as the Nation grieved for President Kennedy, I simply inserted my prepared remarks into the Congressional Record.

I have waited thirty-five years to give this speech, never expecting to do so. I wish to quote from that address to present views that I believe are as relevant today as they were more than a third of a century ago. But before I do so, I would like to quote Lao Tsu, a Chinese philosopher of ancient times, who said, "A leader is best when the people hardly know he exists. And of that leader the people will say when his work is done, `We did this ourselves.'"

This is the speech itself, which had been inserted in the Congressional Record:

"Mr. President, some days ago, blunt words were said on the floor of the Senate. They dealt in critical fashion with the state of this institution. They dealt in critical fashion with the quality of the majority leadership and the minority opposition. A far more important matter than criticism or praise of the leadership was involved. It is a matter which goes to the fundamental nature of the Senate.

"In this light, we have reason to be grateful because if what was stated was being said in the cloakrooms, then it should have been said on the floor. If, as was indicated, the functioning of the Senate itself is in question, the place to air that matter is on the floor of the Senate. We need no cloakroom commandos, operating behind the swinging doors of the two rooms at the rear, to spread the tidings. We need no whispered word passed from one to another and on to the press.

"We are here to do the public's business. On the floor of the Senate, the public's business is conducted in full sight and hearing of the public. And it is here, not in the cloakrooms, that the Senator from Montana, the majority leader, if you wish, will address himself to the question of the present state of the Senate and its leadership. . . . It will be said to all Senators and to all the members of the press who sit above us in more ways than one.

Measuring the Performance of Congress

"How, Mr. President, do you measure the performance of this Congress--any Congress? How do you measure the performance of a Senate, of one hundred independent-minded men and women--any Senate? The question rarely arises, at least until an election approaches. And, then, our concern may well be with our own individual performance and not necessarily with that of the Senate as a whole.

"Yet that performance--the performance of the Senate as a whole -- has been judged on the floor. Several Senators, at least, judged it and found it seriously wanting. And with the hue and cry thus raised, they found echoes outside the Senate. I do not criticize Senators for making the judgment, for raising the alarm. Even less do I criticize the press for spreading it. Senators were within their rights. And the press was not only within its rights but was performing a segment of its public duty, which is to report what transpires here.

"I, too, am within my rights, Mr. President, and I believe I am performing a duty of leadership when I ask again: How do you judge the performance of this Congress--any Congress? Of this Senate-- any Senate? Do you mix a concoction and drink it and, if you feel a sense of well-being thereafter, decide it is not so bad a Congress after all? But if you feel somewhat ill or depressed, then that indeed is proof unequivocal that the Congress is a bad Congress and the Senate is a bad Senate? Or do you shake your head back and forth negatively before a favored columnist when discussing the performance of this Senate? And if he, in turn, nods up and down, then that is proof that the performance is bad? . . .

Timewasters or Moonlighters

"There is reference (by members and the media), to be sure, to time wasting, to laziness, to absenteeism, to standing still, and so forth. But who are the time wasters in the Senate, Mr. President? Who is lazy? Who is an absentee? Each member can make his own judgment of his individual performance. I make no apologies for mine. Nor will I sit in judgment on any other member. On that score, each of us will answer to his own conscience, if not to his constituents.

"But, Mr. President, insofar as the performance of the Senate as a whole is concerned, with all due respect, these comments in time wasting have little relevance. Indeed, the Congress can, as it has--as it did in declaring World War II in less than a day--pass legislation which has the profoundest meaning for the entire nation. And by contrast, the Senate floor can look very busy day in and day out, month in and month out, while the Senate is indeed dawdling. At one time in the recollection of many of us, we debated a civil rights measure twenty-four hours a day for many days on end. We debated it shaven and unshaven. We debated it without ties, with hair awry, and even in bedroom slippers. In the end, we wound up with compromise legislation. And it was not the fresh and well-rested opponents of the civil rights measure who were compelled to the compromise. It was, rather, the exhausted, sleep-starved, quorum-confounded proponents who were only too happy to take it.

"No, Mr. President, if we would estimate the performance of this Congress or any other, this Senate or any other, we will have to find a more reliable yardstick than whether, on the floor, we act as time wasters or moonlighters. As every member of the Senate and press knows, even if the public generally does not, the Senate is neither more nor less effective because the Senate is in session from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., or to 9 a.m. the next day. . . .

Featherbedding in the Senate

"Nor does the length of the session indicate a greater or lesser effectiveness. We live in a twelve-month nation. It may well be that the times are pushing us in the direction of a twelve-months Congress. In short, we cannot measure a Congress or a Senate by the standards of the stretch-out or of the speedup. It will be of no avail to install a time clock at the entrance to the chamber for Senators to punch when they enter or leave the floor.

"There has been a great deal said on this floor about featherbedding in certain industries. But if we want to see a featherbedding to end all featherbedding, we will have the Senate sit here day in and day out, from dawn until dawn, whether or not the calendar calls for it, in order to impress the boss--the American people--with our industriousness. We may not shuffle papers as bureaucrats are assumed to do when engaged in this art. What we are likely to shuffle is words -- words to the President on how to execute the foreign policy or administer the domestic affairs of the nation. And when these words pall, we will undoubtedly turn to the Court to give that institution the benefit of our advice on its responsibilities. And if we run out of judicial wisdom, we can always turn to advising the governors of the states, or the mayors of the cities, or the heads of other nations, on how to manage their concerns.

"Let me make it clear that Senators individually have every right to comment on whatever they wish, and to do so on the floor of the Senate. Highly significant initiatives on all manner of public affairs have had their genesis in the remarks of individual Senators on the floor. But there is one clear-cut, day-in-and-day-out responsibility of the Senate as a whole. Beyond all others, it is the constitutional responsibility to be here and to consider and to act in concert with the House on the legislative needs of the nation. And the effectiveness with which that responsibility is discharged cannot be measured by any reference to the clocks on the walls of the chamber.

Output of Legislation

"Nor can it be measured, really, by the output of legislation. For those who are computer-minded, however, the record shows that 12,656 bills and resolutions were introduced in the 79th Congress of 1945 and 1946. And in the 87th Congress of 1961 and 1962, (that number had increased by) 60 percent. And the records show further that in the 79th Congress, 2,117 bills and resolutions were passed, and in the 87th, 2,217 were passed.

"But what do these figures tell us, Mr. President? Do they tell us that the Congress has been doing poorly because in the face of an 8,000 increase in the biannual input of bills and resolutions, the output of laws fifteen years later had increased by only a hundred? They tell us nothing of the kind.

"If these figures tell us anything, they tell us that the pressures on Congress have intensified greatly. They suggest, further, that Congress may be resistant to these pressures. But whether Congress resists rightly or wrongly, to the benefit or detriment of the nation, these figures tell us nothing at all.

"There is a (more meaningful way to measure) the effectiveness of a Democratic administration. I refer to the approach which is commonly used these days of totaling the Presidential or executive branch requests for significant legislation and weighing against that total the number of congressional responses in the form of law.

"On this basis, if the Congress enacts a small percentage of the executive branch requests, it is presumed, somewhat glibly and impertinently, to be an ineffective Congress. But if the percentage is high, it follows that it is classifiable as an effective Congress. I am not so sure that I would agree, and I am certain that the distinguished minority leader (Senator Dirksen)"--one of the great leaders, the last of the great orators, and a pretty good actor, as are all of us--"and his party would not agree that that is a valid test. The opposition might measure in precisely the opposite fashion. The opposition might, indeed, find a Democratic Congress which enacted little, if any, of a Democratic administration's legislation, a paragon among congresses. And yet I know that the distinguished minority leader does not reason in that fashion, for he has acted time and time again not to kill administration measures, but to help to pass them when he was persuaded that the interests of the nation so required. . . . I see no basis for apology on statistical grounds either for this Congress to date or for the last. But at the same time, I do not take umbrage in statistics. I do not think that statistics, however refined, tell much of the story of whether or not a particular Congress or Senate is effective or ineffective. . . .

The Quality of Leadership

"I turn, finally, to the recent criticism which has been raised as to the quality of the leadership. . . . Of late, Mr. President, the descriptions of the majority leader, of the Senator from Montana, have ranged from a benign Mr. Chips, to glamourless, to tragic mistake.

"It is true, Mr. President, that I have taught school, although I cannot claim either the tenderness, the understanding, or the perception of Mr. Chips for his charges. I confess freely to a lack of glamour. As for being a tragic mistake, if that means, Mr. President, that I am neither a circus ringmaster, the master of ceremonies of a Senate night club, a tamer of Senate lions, or a wheeler and dealer, then I must accept, too, that title. Indeed, I must accept it if I am expected as majority leader to be anything other than myself--a Senator from Montana who has had the good fortune to be trusted by his people for over two decades and done the best he knows how to represent them, and to do what he believes to be right for the nation.

"Insofar as I am personally concerned, these or any other labels can be borne. I achieved the height of my political ambitions when I was elected Senator from Montana. When the Senate saw fit to designate me as majority leader, it was the Senate's choice, not mine, and what the Senate has bestowed, it is always at liberty to revoke.

"But so long as I have this responsibility, it will be discharged to the best of my ability by me as I am. I would not, even if I could, presume to a tough-mindedness which, with all due respect to those who use this cliche, I have always had difficulty in distinguishing from soft-headedness or simple-mindedness. I shall not don any Mandarin's robes or any skin other than that to which I am accustomed in order that I may look like a majority leader or sound like a majority leader--however a majority leader is supposed to look or sound. I am what I am, and no title, political face-lifter, or image-maker can alter it.

"I believe that I am, as are most Senators, an ordinary American with a normal complement of vices and, I hope, virtues, of weaknesses and, I hope, strengths. As such, I do my best to be courteous, decent, and understanding of others, and sometimes fail at it. . . .

"I have always felt that the President of the United States-- whoever he may be-- . . . is worthy of the respect of the Senate. I have always felt that he bears a greater burden of responsibility than any individual Senator for the welfare and security of the nation, for he alone can speak for the nation abroad; and he alone, at home, stands with the Congress as a whole, as constituted representatives of the entire American people. In the exercise of his grave responsibilities, I believe we have a profound responsibility to give him whatever understanding and support we can, in good conscience and in conformity with our independent duties. I believe we owe it to the nation of which all our States are a part--particularly in matters of foreign relations--to give to him not only responsible opposition, but responsible cooperation.

Every Member Ought to be Equal

"And, finally, within this body, I believe that every member ought to be equal in fact, no less than in theory, that they have a primary responsibility to the people whom they represent to face the legislative issues of the nation. And to the extent that the Senate may be inadequate in this connection, the remedy lies not in the seeking of shortcuts, not in the cracking of nonexistent whips, not in wheeling and dealing, but in an honest facing of the situation and a resolution of it by the Senate itself, by accommodation, by respect for one another, by mutual restraint and, as necessary, adjustments in the procedures of this body.

"The constitutional authority and responsibility does not lie with the leadership. It lies with all of us individually, collectively, and equally. And in the last analysis, deviations from that principle must in the end act to the detriment of the institution. And, in the end, that principle cannot be made to prevail by rules. It can prevail only if there is a high degree of accommodation, mutual restraint, and a measure of courage--in spite of our weaknesses--in all of us. It can prevail only if we recognize that, in the end, it is not the Senators as individuals who are of fundamental importance. In the end, it is the institution of the Senate. It is the Senate itself as one of the foundations of the Constitution. It is the Senate as one of the rocks of the Republic."

Thus ended my abridged observations of November 1963.

In my remarks during the 1976 dedication ceremonies in this chamber, I returned to the themes of 1963. I stated my belief that, in its fundamentals, the Senate of modern times may not have changed essentially from the Senate of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun.

What moved Senators yesterday still moves Senators today. We have the individual and collective strength of our predecessors and, I might add, their weaknesses. We are not all ten feet tall, nor were they. Senators act within the circumstances of their fears no less than their courage, their foibles as well as their strengths. Our concerns and our efforts in the Senate, like our predecessors and successors, arise from our goals of advancing the welfare of the people whom we represent, safeguarding the well-being of our respective States and protecting the present and future of this nation, a nation which belongs--as does this room--not to one of us, or to one generation, but to all of us and to all generations.

The significance of that 1976 gathering--and perhaps of our being here tonight--is to remind us that in a Senate of immense and still unfolding significance to the nation, each individual member can play only a brief and limited role. It is to remind us that the Senate's responsibilities go on, even though the faces and, yes, even the rooms in which they gather, fade into history. With the nation, the Senate has come a long way. And still, there is a long way to go.

Thank you very much.

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