|Address by Senator George J. Mitchell, June 16, 1999|
Introduction by Senator Trent Lott
Thank you very much, my colleagues of the Senate and distinguished guests. We are delighted to have you back in this beautiful Chamber, the Old Senate Chamber.
We have meetings here occasionally, but it is not that often. They are always very impressive and memorable when we do come to this Chamber to have meetings or hear speeches. So I know that is certainly going to be the case tonight.
It is my pleasure to welcome you -- both our invited guests and our national viewing audience -- to the fifth presentation in the Senate's Leader's Lecture Series.
When we launched this effort two years ago, there were high expectations, because we were all looking forward to hearing from Senator Mike Mansfield and Senator Howard Baker and Senator Bob Byrd and Vice President, and eventually President, George Bush. I think that this lecture series has fulfilled everything we had hoped for, and even more.
I know that will continue tonight, as we listen to our special lecturer, a great American, who will give us some insight into his experiences as majority leader of the Senate. I don't know of many former Senators who have had greater experiences since. We were just talking about the fact that after he left the Senate, he married a beautiful lady. Tom Daschle will introduce her later. He has a son. He has had a tremendous experience in Ireland. And he wears a lot nicer suits than he did when he was in the Senate, too.
This is certainly, I think, a most worthwhile experience. I don't know of any lecturer that we have had who has had more experience than this one has in terms of the legislative and executive and judicial. Certainly he has had a tremendous record along every stop of his long career.
He won a come-from-behind election when he first got elected to the Senate. He finally won the next time by acclamation -- the largest margin in the history of the State -- or almost acclamation. Within nine years after coming to the Senate he became majority leader, which is very impressive. Of course, I was able to be elected majority leader after seven and a half years.
I had to get that point in. But he did quite a job as majority leader. I remember quite well, because I remember how tough it was being in the minority when George Mitchell was the majority leader. He did such a great job.
Tom Daschle, I think, really probably looks at George Mitchell as a mentor. He worked with him. He worked closely with him, and, of course, he succeeded him. I thought it would be appropriate that Tom would do the official introduction tonight.
This special guest also, I think, has to be particularly recognized for what he did as chairman of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. It was heroic. It was a stunning accomplishment. I think it typifies the life of the man that we are going to have as our speaker here tonight.
So I am pleased to have you all here. We look forward to hearing the presentation, but at this point I would like to turn the podium over to the Democratic leader, my good friend, Tom Daschle, for the final introduction.
Introduction by Senator Tom Daschle
Thank you. Thank you very much for this high honor. It is a real pleasure for me to make this introduction. Actually, it is two introductions. I would like to begin by introducing and welcoming George's wife, Heather, who is right here in the front row.
It has been said that there is no blessing like that of a good friend.
In that case, I am doubly blessed. Not only am I able to call George Mitchell my friend, this evening I have the honor of introducing him and welcoming him home.
Few Americans have served with such distinction in so many different capacities: prosecutor, judge, Senator, Presidential envoy, chair of Northern Ireland's historic peace talks. He is also an author -- and a fierce tennis player.
His story is the quintessential American story.
His mother was a Lebanese immigrant. She worked the night shift in a textile mill, and never learned to read or write English. His father, the orphaned son of Irish immigrants, cleaned the buildings at Colby College.
When George Mitchell was sixteen, his father lost that job and was out of work for a year. The experience of being without work and without money nearly crushed his father, and his family.
His father was not well schooled -- he only went as far as the fourth or fifth grade -- but he was a wise man.
Like so many immigrants and children of immigrants, George Mitchell's parents were deeply devoted to their children. His father used to bring the newspapers home from his job, and every night quiz George and his three siblings about what was in them. All four of the Mitchell children graduated from college.
George Mitchell worked his way, first, through Bowdoin College in Maine, and then through Georgetown Law School. He supplemented his scholarships with work as a steward, a dorm proctor, construction worker, night watchman, truck driver -- can any of you imagine George Mitchell as a truck driver? -- and an insurance adjustor.
He served as an Army counterintelligence officer in Germany before construction of the Berlin Wall.
He came to the Senate -- for the first time -- in the early 1960s, as chief of staff for his mentor and friend, Ed Muskie.
His elective career did not begin impressively.
In 1972, he ran for director of the Democratic National Committee -- and lost. Two years later, he ran for Governor of Maine -- and lost in the primary. In 1977, he was appointed Federal prosecutor for the State of Maine. Two years later, he was appointed to the Federal bench, a role he seemed to be born to.
In 1980, he gave up the security of that lifetime appointment and joined the United States Senate. He came to town as an appointed Senator to finish out the term of his mentor when President Carter chose Senator Muskie as his Secretary of State.
In 1981, after one year in the Senate, polls showed him trailing his likely opponent in the 1982 election by 36 points. When the last votes were counted in 1982, George Mitchell was reelected with 61 percent of the vote.
I am told he still counts that election as his most gratifying. And, frankly, I can understand why.
He was reelected in 1988 with an astounding 81 percent, in an election that remains -- to this day -- the most lopsided Senate victory in Maine's history. That same year, his fellow Democratic Senators unanimously elected him their leader. In all, he served more than fourteen years in the Senate -- including six as majority leader.
When Senator Mitchell was a Federal prosecutor, he once called a defense attorney to cite a case he intended to use in a summary argument but had not included in his brief. When he hung up, a young attorney who had overheard the conversation asked why he had told the other lawyer. Why not just surprise him in court? It could have helped him win the case. Senator Mitchell said he had done it because his job was not to win the case; his job was to see that justice was done. That trait of essential, fundamental fairness was one he has always carried with him.
George Mitchell cares deeply about things, and he can be fiercely partisan. But when it came to dispensing the rules in the Senate, he was unusually fair and bipartisan.
Senator Dole may have put it best when he said, during Senator Mitchell's final days in this body: "All of us have been students of George Mitchell these past years -- and we have learned a thing or two about honesty, patience, and public service. For [him], politics and public service are not games -- they are opportunities to make a difference in the lives of our nation and her people.
"As we sought to make that difference, Senator Mitchell never told me anything but the truth," so said Senator Dole.
Bill Cohen put it even more succinctly when he said, "George Mitchell comes as close to the ideal public servant as anyone I know. His voice has reminded those of us who believe public service is a noble calling we are not living in a fool's paradise. We are truly going to miss him -- and I feel it so much, I don't want to talk about it."
During his years here, Senator Mitchell displayed extraordinary patience and a steely determination to get things done. He was, and is, judicial, analytical, and painstakingly intellectual -- a man of great wisdom and of diplomatic skill.
He loves the Senate and the democratic process.
His legislative achievements as majority leader were many.
In 1990, following months of negotiations with the Bush administration, he steered through the Senate the landmark Clean Air Act. He helped push through laws to broaden voter registration, to give 20 million people access to the Family and Medical Leave Act, to protect the basic rights of Americans with disabilities, and to put 100,000 new police officers on our streets.
In his final term as majority leader, he also pushed through laws that enabled us to turn around the deficit, to get our budget in order, and to start to grow the economy again.
In the end, he was such a successful majority leader that some pundits actually compared him to none other than LBJ.
During his last years here, he turned down the chance to serve on the Supreme Court, choosing instead to try to finish his work on a comprehensive health care bill -- a task which we still have not completed.
In early 1994, he stunned Washington by announcing he would not seek reelection to a third term -- a term he surely would have won. He said he wanted to leave here while he was still young enough to help people in other ways, and he wasted no time doing so.
He decided not to run for reelection, but he had already amassed a sizable campaign fund. He contacted everyone who had contributed to that fund and offered to return their money. With the money left over, he established a college scholarship fund for young people in Maine.
He and his wife, Heather, have become parents now to a son, Andrew.
Most famously perhaps, he helped broker the Northern Ireland "Good Friday" peace agreement, ending a civil war that spanned three decades and claimed more than 3,200 lives in an area barely larger than Connecticut.
That agreement was preceded by more than a hundred flights across the Atlantic, and more than twenty-two months of often tortuous negotiations involving Northern Ireland's eight feuding political parties.
That achievement earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- and made him a national hero throughout Ireland.
Through all of that -- all of the careers, all of the accomplishments, the single most satisfying moment of his public life occurred not in a courtroom or a legislative hall; it occurred, he told a reporter from a Maine newspaper, in 1993, in a parking lot of Sonny Miller's restaurant in Bangor, Maine, when a big, burly man rushed up to him. His first thought, he said, was the man was going to hit him. Instead, the man hugged him and thanked him for saving his job -- by saving a small paper mill in Maine. There were tears streaming down the man's face as he described how much George Mitchell's actions had meant to him and to his family.
For this son of immigrants, it was a singular moment in a singular career.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce my friend -- our friend -- the former majority leader of the United States Senate, George Mitchell.
Address by Senator George J. Mitchell
Thank you very much.
I am very grateful to the majority leader for inviting me to be here this evening, and to both leaders for their generous introductions. It is an honor for me to be back in the Senate where I feel at home and among friends.
Every person in this room is important. But each of you knows better than I how local politics really is, so I think I should recognize my Senator, Susan Collins, who is here.
Thank you very much, Susan.
Senator Snowe was here earlier but had to leave for another appointment.
The very generous words of the leaders came at a very timely moment for me because I needed a boost to my self-esteem. I just completed a nationwide book tour. The first event was held in New York, where my wife lives, so she attended with me. The backdrop on the stage was a huge photograph of me. The introductions were even more excessive and false than Tom's were. The reception of the audience was very generous. And on the way home, my wife said to me: "I'm worried that with three straight weeks of this -- morning, noon and night -- you're going to get a swelled head." I assured her that wouldn't happen. But sure enough, after just a few days of listening to this endless praise, I started to believe it, and my estimate of my own importance was rising rapidly.
Then on the fourth evening, I attended an event in Connecticut. As I walked up to the building, I noticed a huge banner -- it took up half the side of the building -- a large welcoming sign. So I walked into the building greatly impressed with myself.
The very first person I met was an elderly woman who rushed up, grabbed my hand, and shook it for a long time, very vigorously, and said, very excitedly, "I'm really thrilled to meet you. I'm so happy to meet you. I've wanted for such a long time to shake your hand." Then she stepped back and looked at me with a quizzical look and said, "But I'm a little disappointed." I said, "Why is that?" She said, "Because you don't look anything like your photographs." And before I could say anything, not knowing what to say in response, she handed me a poster and said, "Here. Look for yourself." I looked at the poster, and there was a huge picture on it of Henry Kissinger.
I protested, "I'm not Henry Kissinger." She said, "You're not? Well, who are you?" When I explained, she stepped back and looked me up and down and said, "Oh my God, I've wasted a whole evening."
She said, "I drove a long way to meet Henry Kissinger, and all I've got is you."
Well, like that woman, all you've got is me, properly humbled, and happy to be here.
I truly miss the Senate -- the challenge of important issues, the satisfaction of public service, the honor of being part of this, the greatest deliberative body in the world, the personal friendships. If I have any regret about leaving the Senate when I did, it is that I didn't take the time to reflect on and enjoy it while I was here. Service in the Senate was a highlight of my life, and it will be of yours. I urge you to enjoy it while you can.
I am glad to be here for many reasons, not the least of which is that in six years as majority leader, I never could get this many Senators to listen to me at one time.
Usually, there was just Bob Dole who, as minority leader, had to be there, and a few Senators on their way to a meeting from the Cloakroom or going into the Cloakroom. So I really do appreciate this opportunity and this attendance.
In preparation, I read the lectures delivered by three of the preceding speakers in this series, each a distinguished American: President Bush, and Senator Baker and Senator Byrd, both of whom are here. Each of them reminisced about his years in office and offered some thoughts on some of the problems that you confront. I will try to do the same.
The Struggle for Peace in Northern Ireland
In his invitation, the majority leader asked that my remarks relate in some way to my service in the Senate. In the last few weeks, I have been contacted by several of you who have asked that I discuss, at least briefly, my experience in Northern Ireland. I will try to do both of those things without turning this into a filibuster.
Let me begin with Northern Ireland.
For three and a half years, I had the privilege of working for peace in that troubled land. It was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken but in the end the most rewarding. Last year, the Governments of Britain and Ireland and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland reached an agreement that could end centuries of conflict, and then in a free and open election, the people of Ireland -- North and South -- voted overwhelmingly to approve that agreement.
It was an historic step forward. By itself, the agreement does not guarantee peace and reconciliation. But it makes them possible, even though there remain many difficult and controversial decisions.
The negotiations lasted for nearly two years. The British and Irish governments and ten political parties from Northern Ireland were eligible to participate. It is an indication of the difficulty and the complexity of the process that not once, not for a single moment, was I able to get all twelve of the eligible parties into the same room at the same time. Some parties were excluded for a time, some were expelled for a time, some walked out, some came back, some walked out again.
So for most of the two years, there was little or no progress. The discussions were long, very contentious, and repetitious. Some of the delegates grew impatient with me for not imposing time limits and for not limiting speakers when they strayed off the subject, as they frequently did. I rejected their protests and I refused to impose any time limits until the very end of the process when I established overall a final, firm deadline. And every time I refused to cut speakers off, I explained my decision that I acquired my political training in the United States Senate where the rules permit unlimited debate.
But I must admit now that when I was majority leader, I didn't always enjoy unlimited debate. There were times when I was frustrated by the ease with which the Senate rules can be used for obstruction. But with time and distance comes perspective.
So my first point is that the right of unlimited debate is a rare treasure which you must safeguard. Of course, it can be, and it is, abused. But that is the price that must be paid, and the privilege is worth the price.
Although I didn't realize it at the time when I sat in the Senate Chamber and listened to very long speeches by several of the people here this evening, the Lord, in the mysterious ways in which He works, was preparing me for the Northern Ireland negotiations.
But I have no doubt that my service in the Senate was extremely helpful to me in Northern Ireland.
The Task of Leadership in the Senate
When I served in the Senate, I felt that the task of leadership, in a broad sense, was to reconcile the conflicting demands of continuity and change in our society. To be successful, a society needs order, but it also must accommodate change. The challenge is to provide enough order to permit creativity and entrepreneurship but not so much as to threaten individual liberty and stifle innovation.
The search for security and predictability is never ending, and societies must provide some degree of both; for in their absence, civilized life is impossible. But they also enhance a natural tendency toward possession, power and status.
Usually, in history, the power of government was used to protect the privileged, and the result always was a more rigid, less flexible, less dynamic society.
In its short history, what is promising about the American experiment in democracy is that here the people have always opposed distinctions by class, and the Government has often been a force for change; not always but more so than in other societies. For more than two hundred years, the American people have steadily expanded their liberties and their rights, in an effort to provide equality of justice and of opportunity.
Recall that at our Nation's founding, the right to vote was granted only to adult white men who owned property. Seventy-five years later, in the wake of a bloody civil war, the protections of law were extended to all men. Sixty years later, the right to vote was extended to women. Another half century later, the Nation agreed that those old enough to fight its wars were old enough to vote. And finally, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act protected the right of all Americans to vote, regardless of color.
Once they rid themselves of the burden of slavery, the American people have broken down more barriers of discrimination than they have built, and often the United States Senate has led the way. They have opened the doors of opportunity, not closed them. Your task in behalf of the people is never ending; for you, the Members of the United States Senate, must protect and enhance the most important thing about our civilization: The opportunity for each individual to choose freely what to be and what to do, to the limits of human initiative, energy and talent.
As you lead our Nation into the twenty-first century, the challenge you face is more difficult and demanding than that which has faced earlier leaders. That is because change, in every area of human affairs, is more rapid and sweeping than ever before.
Democracy first flourished on a meaningful scale in ancient Greece. Measured across the long sweep of history, it wasn't that long ago. Fewer than 2,500 years separate you from Pericles. Yet, measured against changes in science and knowledge, it was light-years ago. No Greek of that era, no matter how intelligent or well educated, could have conceived of life with the computer, the television, the telephone, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. They could not have imagined, let alone understood, DNA and the Genome Project, men on the moon, or the cloning of a live animal.
Today, you must regularly deal with these and other complex issues. Under great pressure, with information that is always incomplete, often with little to guide you, you must make decisions that will affect generations to come.
I know how difficult that can be, but the political and economic flexibility of the American system has enabled its leaders to deal with new challenges in every generation without being frozen into the responses of the past. And you should be heartened by the knowledge that as great as have been the physical and scientific changes in life and knowledge, in the area of public policy there has been remarkable continuity.
War and Peace – The Lessons of History
For example, for a long time to come, American leaders will be grappling with the issue of war and peace in southern Europe. The televised images of murder and ethnic cleansing have shocked the world. Are they really new? Are they unique to our century? As Senator Byrd often did, I would like to reach back in time to answer that question.
Between the years 431 and 404 B.C., Athens and Sparta and their respective allies engaged in a long and bitter conflict which has come to be known as the Peloponnesian War. Historians disagree on the reasons why the war ended in defeat for Athens, even though its wealth and resources were greater than those of Sparta.
Perhaps a turning point took place on the island of Melos. It was one of hundreds of small city-states for whose allegiance Athens and Sparta competed. A small island without an army, Melos felt its interests would best be served by remaining neutral.
In 416, Athens landed a large force on the island and demanded that Melos abandon its neutrality. Melos refused, and they appealed to what they called international justice. Athens rejected the appeal. Hopelessly outnumbered, Melos surrendered and threw itself on the mercy of Athens.
Flush with power, the Athenians showed no mercy. They killed every adult male and shipped all of the women and children back to Athens as slaves. The island of Melos remained, but the community of Melos had been extinguished.
However, the brutality backfired. Other city-states, seeing what had happened to Melos, moved increasingly into the Spartan alliance. In a decade, the war was over. The arrogance of power led the Athenians to commit murder and ethnic cleansing on a vast scale, and to scorn appeals to mercy and justice. But in a short time they paid a heavy price, defeated by a smaller, less wealthy enemy. Of course, Sparta was not a democracy in the modern American sense, but it was able to inspire its citizens and its allies in a way that Athens could not.
One historian's judgment was that "The Spartan Alliance triumphed not only because Athens made mistakes. [But also because] its members, great and small, endured adversity with tenacity and fought to the death in the cause of freedom, a cause inspired less by material self-interest than by patriotic idealism."
The obvious point is, of course, that war is as old as mankind; so are murder and ethnic cleansing. You will have to deal with them for as far into the future as we can see.
But there are other points as well. The lesson of history is clear. Time after time the dominant military power, succumbed to hubris, became arrogant, overextended itself, and then declined. Power is most effective when exercised sparingly and with restraint. It is then more likely to command allegiance and to endure.
And, when conflict does come, ideals mean more than wealth, more than any form of material self-interest. That is America's greatest strength. We have the largest and strongest economy and the most powerful military force in all of history. They are obviously important to our ability to influence events in the world.
Our Strength Rests Upon National Ideals
But the United States was a great nation long before it was a great military power. That is because our strength rests upon national ideals, ideals which have universal appeal: the primacy of individual liberty, equality of justice, and opportunity for all.
Our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are more than charters of self-governance. They are acts of political and literary genius. They made it possible for a small colony, huddled along the coast of a vast, untamed continent, to become the dominant economic, military, and cultural power in the world. You, the Members of the United States Senate, hold that impressive legacy in your hands.
Nearly two hundred years before the Peloponnesian War, in the seventh century before the birth of Christ, Draco was asked to revise the laws of Athens. It was a turbulent time. His objective was order. His guide was logic, but his code failed to achieve order. To the contrary, because of its severity, it increased the disorder. Its most notorious feature allowed a creditor to sell an insolvent debtor and his family into slavery. The sight of Athenian families, bound and shackled, being shipped to foreign lands as slaves, provoked a sharp reaction.
A quarter century later, Solon was asked to write a new law and then a new constitution. Draco's objective had been order; Solon's was justice. Draco's guide had been logic; Solon's was pragmatism. Draco had ignored the contemporary needs of his societies; Solon emphasized them. Draco legislated for the benefit of the few; Solon acted for the many.
As one historian observed: Solon "vindicated the right [of the lowest class] to personal liberty, [he established] their place in the economy of the state, and he granted citizenship to incoming artisans and refugees."
Making everyone feel a part of the society, vindicating personal liberty, and dealing with refugees -- does it sound familiar to you? And this was 700 years before the birth of Christ.
Order and logic are important, but they cannot be exclusive to other considerations. Common sense, fairness and justice must inform the making of laws. Yes, they are vague phrases, but you will know them when you see them.
Their actions earned for Draco and Solon the immortality that many seek but few achieve; their names have become part of our language. According to Webster's Dictionary, "draconian" means "harsh or cruel"; "solon" means "a wise and skillful lawgiver."
Solon did and said something else that is worth your noting. Some high officials of the time used their office to enrich themselves. Solon did not. For that, he was ridiculed by some. In reply he said, "Many bad men are rich, many good men are poor; but we shall not exchange wealth for honor, for money flits from man to man, but honor abides forever."
I know it is hard to stay on the path of honor when you believe your opponent has acted dishonorably. The temptation is always strong to "fight fire with fire." But, in the end, honor does not just abide forever, it usually prevails politically.
Principles for Ending a Conflict
I mentioned Northern Ireland earlier, and I would like to return there now for a few brief comments.
The demise of the Soviet Union freed many people who had been caught in the grip of communism. But it also released ethnic tensions, tribal and national passions which had long been suppressed. In the twenty-first century, the United States increasingly will be called upon to intervene in conflicts generated by such passions. As the leaders of our Nation, you will be required to make very difficult decisions.
You will have to define and redefine and weigh the national interest, our security needs, humanitarian needs, and other variable and shifting factors. In the past few months, I have often been asked, including by some of you, what, if any, lessons Northern Ireland holds for other conflicts.
We must be cautious in trying to draw lessons from any one conflict. Each human being is unique, as is each society. It follows logically, then, that no two conflicts are the same. Much as we would like it, there is no magic formula which, once discovered, can be used to end all conflicts.
But there are certain principles in which I believe and which were validated by my experience in Northern Ireland.
First, I believe there is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended. Conflicts are created and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings. No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how much harm has been done, peace can prevail.
When I arrived in Northern Ireland, I found, to my dismay, widespread pessimism among the public and the political leaders. It is a small, well-informed society where I quickly became known, and every day on the street, in a hotel, in a restaurant, at the airport, people would stop me and come up and speak to me. They always began with compliments: "Thank you, Senator." "God bless you." "We appreciate what you are trying to do." And they always ended with despair: "You're wasting your time." "This conflict can't be ended." "We've been killing each other forever, and we're doomed to go on killing each other forever."
As best I could, I worked to reverse that attitude. That is the special responsibility of political leaders, from whom many in the public take their cue. Every time one of you appears on national television, millions of Americans make a decision on issues because they respect you. Leaders must lead, and one way is to create an attitude of success, the belief that problems can be solved, the conviction that things can be better; not in a foolish or unrealistic way but in a way that creates hope and confidence among the people.
A second need in conflicts is a clear and determined policy not to yield to violence. Over and over the men of violence tried to destroy the peace process in Northern Ireland. At times they nearly succeeded. At every critical moment there were murders and bombings whose purpose was to end the peace process.
Last July, three young Catholic boys were burned to death as they slept in their beds. In August, a devastating bomb in Omagh killed twenty-nine people and injured three hundred, Protestant and Catholic alike. These were acts of appalling ignorance and hatred. They must be totally condemned. But to have succumbed to the temptation to retaliate would have given the criminals what they want: escalating sectarian violence and the end of the peace process. The way to respond to such atrocities there, and elsewhere, is to swiftly bring those who committed crimes to justice and move forward in peace.
Seeking an end to conflict is not for the timid or the tentative. It takes courage, perseverance and steady nerves in the face of awful violence. I believe it is a mistake to say in advance that if enough acts of violence occur, negotiations for the peace process will stop. That transfers control of the agenda from the peaceful majority to the violent minority.
A third need is a willingness to compromise. Peace and political stability cannot be achieved in sharply divided societies unless there is a genuine willingness to understand the other point of view and to enter into principled compromise. That is easy to say, but very hard to do, because it requires of political leaders that they take risks for peace. To ask leaders to be bold in the most difficult and dangerous of services, when their lives and the lives of their families are at risk, is asking much.
But it must be asked, and they must respond, if there is to be hope for peace. I know it can be done. I saw it firsthand in Northern Ireland. Men and women, some of whom had never met, had never before spoken, who had lived their entire political lives in conflict, came together in an agreement for peace. If it happened there, it can happen anywhere.
There is a final point that, to me, is so important. It extends beyond conflict, and it includes our country. I recall very clearly my first day in Northern Ireland more than four years ago. I saw for the first time the huge wall which physically separates the communities. Thirty feet high, topped in places with barbed wire, it is an ugly reminder of the intensity and duration of that conflict. Ironically, it is called the Peace Line.
On that first morning, I met with Catholics on their side of the wall, in the afternoon with Protestants on their side. Their messages were the same: In Belfast, they told me there is a high correlation between unemployment and violence. They said that where men and women have no opportunity or hope, they are more likely to take the path of violence.
As I sat and listened to them, I thought I could just as easily be in Chicago or in Calcutta or in the Middle East. Despair is the fuel for instability and conflict everywhere. Hope is essential to peace and political stability. Men and women need income to support their families; and even more important, they need the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile and meaningful with their lives. That is true everywhere, including in our own society. All across this country, from urban ghettos to left-behind rural areas, millions of our fellow citizens do not share in our remarkable prosperity; worse, they have no prospect of doing so.
The conflict in Northern Ireland is not exclusively or even primarily economic. It involves religion and national identity, but there is an economic factor. The significance of the Good Friday agreement is that it creates the possibility that economic prosperity will flow from and contribute to lasting peace.
When the agreement was reached at about six o'clock in the evening on Good Friday, we had been in negotiations for nearly two years and continuously for two days. We were exhausted but elated. In my parting comments, I told the delegates that for me the agreement was the realization of a dream that had sustained me for three and a half of the most difficult years of my life.
Now, I told them, I have a new dream. My new dream is that I will return to Northern Ireland in a few years with my young son. We will roam the countryside, taking in the sights and sounds of a very beautiful country, basking in the warmth of a generous and hearty people. Then, on a rainy afternoon, we will drive to the capital and sit quietly in the visitors gallery of the new Northern Ireland Assembly, created as a result of this agreement.
There we will watch and listen as the members of the assembly debate the ordinary issues of life in a democratic society: education, health care, tourism, agriculture. There will be no talk of war, for the war will have long been over. There will be no talk of peace, for peace will be taken for granted. On that day, the day on which peace is taken for granted in Northern Ireland, I will be truly fulfilled and peace-loving people everywhere will rejoice.
Mentors in the Senate
Before closing, I would like to again thank the majority leader for inviting me here this evening. It was a privilege to represent Maine in the Senate, an honor to serve for six years as majority leader. Much of what I know about leadership, about conflict resolution, about working with other people, about American democracy, and about myself, I learned here.
I had some great mentors: My predecessor, who was also my hero and my friend, Ed Muskie; John Stennis, Scoop Jackson, and Jennings Randolph, who for reasons I still don't understand, each guided me in my early, very uncertain years -- it is not the most comfortable thing in the world to be an appointed Senator in the United States Senate -- Bill Cohen, my colleague from Maine, and my friend, now doing an outstanding job as Secretary of Defense, with whom I worked closely on behalf of the people of Maine.
Senator Byrd taught me, as he has taught all of you, about the Senate. His reverence for this institution is infectious. And I especially enjoyed his excursions into the history of Rome.
I want you to know, Senator Byrd, that in 1993, I not only watched on video each of your fourteen lectures, spread over a period of six months, on the relationship between the line-item veto and the Roman Republic, I later read them all, twice.
I must admit, I was initially skeptical that there was such a relationship. But I have always suspected that the length of your lectures was a deliberate effort to give Senators ample time to reconsider their positions. I don't know about anyone else, but it worked with me.
By the time you finished you had persuaded me.
When I was majority leader, I was very privileged to work with Bob Dole. We disagreed on many issues, but I am proud to say that we never, not once, had a harsh or disagreeable word in public or in private. I trusted him and he trusted me. We began as colleagues and we ended as good friends, and we are still working together. I made many other friends as well, on both sides of the aisle. Many have left the Senate. Some remain. All will endure.
I commend each of you for your willingness to seek and serve in public office. It isn't easy: The skepticism on the part of many in the press and public, the loss of privacy, the constant separation from family. But the intangible rewards outweigh the cost. For you have the incomparable satisfaction of being, in Theodore Roosevelt's words, "in the arena." As he wrote:
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes [up] short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause, who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.
We Americans are the most fortunate people ever to have lived, to be citizens of a society which, despite its imperfections, is the most free, the most open, the most just in all of history. Most of us are Americans by accident of birth. But America was built by immigrants who became Americans by choice. Some came to escape religious persecution or political oppression, some to join families already here. Most came to seek a better life in a land of freedom and opportunity.
Before I entered the Senate, I had the privilege of serving as a Federal judge. Occasionally, I presided over naturalization ceremonies, where immigrants are sworn in as citizens. I have never done anything more meaningful or enjoyable. In these ceremonies the new citizens-to-be gathered before me in a Federal courtroom in Maine. They had come from every part of the world. They had gone through all of the required procedures. Now, in the final act, I administered to them the oath of allegiance to the United States, and I made them Americans.
The ceremony was always emotional for me because my mother was an immigrant, my father the orphan son of immigrants. They had no education. My mother could not read or write English. She worked for thirty-five years on a night shift in a textile mill. And my father was a janitor. But because of their efforts and, more importantly, because of the openness of American society, I, their son, was able to become the majority leader of this, the most revered legislative body in the world.
After every ceremony I spoke privately with each new American. I asked them why they came, how they came, what they hoped to find here. Their devotion and enthusiasm for this, the country of their choice, was truly inspiring. Their answers were as different as their countries of origin. But through them all ran a common theme, best expressed by a young Asian man. When I asked why he came, he answered in slow and halting English, "I came because here in America everybody has a chance."
That young man, who could barely speak English, who had been an American for just a few minutes, summed up the meaning of our country in a single sentence. America is freedom and opportunity.
I consider myself to have been especially fortunate. I had an Irish father, a Lebanese mother, and an American life. I enjoyed freedom, I benefited from opportunity, and none of it has meant more to me than to have served in the United States Senate.
Thank you very much.