Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hagel's Farewell Speech

What a sad day for the Senate and for Nebraska. Here is the transcript of Sen. ChuckHagel's farewell speech to the Senate:

Mr. President, thank you. And I am very pleased that you are in the chair this afternoon, and for those who are not aware of the fact, Nebraska's entire senate delegation is on the floor today, the one who will soon become the senior senator presiding. So thank you, Mr. President.

I would like to begin my remarks this afternoon acknowledging four of our colleagues who will be leaving the senate along with me at the end of this congress, the 110th Congress. And then make some additional comments.

This body will lose two of the most respected, highly regarded consensus builders in the history of this body. And I speak of the senior Senator from New Mexico, Senator Domenici, and the senior Senator from Virginia, Senator Warner. Between the two of these distinguished national leaders, they have given the senate and this country 70 years of service. Most Americans are aware of senators Domenici and Warner and the contributions they've made. Those of us who have had the privilege of serving with these two individuals know what they have meant to our country.

They have been role models, leaders, men of conscience, of vision, of integrity, of courage. And all of those most valued human characteristics have been evident when America has needed them most. For their voice, and their courage and their vision, we thank them– for the kind of men they are and the senators they have been, we thank them. We are all much enriched by our association with senators Warner and Domenici, and this country will miss them greatly. But they leave strong legacies. They leave men and women who have been touched by their leadership and their values and will carry on behind them, emulating their leadership and their vision.

I wish also to recognize one of my classmates that I came to the senate with 12 years ago. He is our neighbor from the west, the senior Senator from Colorado, Wayne Allard. Aside from Senator Allard and Colorado usually taking Nebraska's water, we find little to quarrel with in the kind of work that Senator Allard has done for his state and our country. I've had an opportunity to serve 12 years with Senator Allard on the banking committee. His very steady performance, leadership--he will be missed on that committee, as well as the other committees he serves on and has been very active in, as my colleague in the chair knows who served with him as well on the armed services committee; and his leadership on the budget committee in particular will be missed. And I wish to acknowledge that friendship and that leadership of Senator Allard.

The fourth member of the senate who will be leaving along with me is the senior Senator from Idaho, Larry Craig. I have had an opportunity to work with senator Craig over the years on environmental issues, energy issues, trade issues, agriculture issues. And there have been few who have been as forceful and important a voice on behalf of those critical challenges to our country.

Senator Craig, Senator Allard, Senator Warner, Senator Domenici all leave the United States Senate a better institution for their service.

On January 7, 1997, I took an oath of office here in the United States senate, an oath to the constitution, and I became the 1,841st person who has ever served in the United States Senate. That number struck me that day because I recognized, once again, and soon to come to truly appreciate over a 12-year period in this body, how few people have had the opportunity, the privilege, the honor, to serve in the united states senate. Less than 2,000 Americans in the history of our country have served in the United States Senate.

That doesn't make us better. That doesn't mean we're smarter, or in any way more privileged. But what it does do is reflect upon the kind of responsibility that we have in this body and the expectations that are placed on each of us, as should be the case, for our service.

I first thank the people of Nebraska for the privilege that I've been given to serve in this body for 12 years. I thank my staff, not for their service to me, but for their service to this country. I thank my colleagues, republicans and democrats, who I have learned so much from over these 12 years. In particular, Senators Lugar and Biden, who I have learned much from in serving with them on the senate foreign relations committee for the last 12 years. Who have been patient with me, who helped me, as well as their staffs.

The two leaders of this body, Senators Reid and McConnell, I wish to thank them. I have had privileged relationships with each. Senator McConnell and I have grown to have a very close relationship, friendship, and I very much value that relationship. And I thank Senator McConnell for his many courtesies over the years, as I do senator Reid. These two men are charged with great responsibilities. And especially over the last two years during as difficult a Congress certainly that I've served in, and I suspect most of my colleagues have served in, they have done a remarkably good and effective job.

Certainly I thank my family for this privilege and their support and their guidance. And they, too, have been privileged, and enriched, and enhanced by being part of this experience over the last 12 years.

These last 12 years have been years of global reorientation and historic events. And as I have represented Nebraskans during these turbulent times, I have formed judgments and drawn conclusions about America's future.

The strength of any country is its people. Constitutions, governments, public and private institutions are important for they form the structure of a society. The boundaries of social behavior. But it is the people, the individuals, who make the difference in life and in the world.

Americans possess a generous spirit and uncommon decency predicated on faith and family, hard work, fair play, and belief in a better tomorrow. The challenges that face America today and in the future are not just American challenges but global challenges. Everything we do or don't do has global implications, just as everything that happens around the world has implications for us here in our country.

The United States Senate is a unique institution. It is unique among all the governing bodies of the world. It's imperfect. It's slow. It's tedious. It's sometimes maddening. Certainly frustrating. But the brilliance of our forefathers understood completely and carefully, how, I don't know, that the world would at some point come together with a great confluence of complications. And to have a body whose main responsibility would be to take the longer view -- the longer view of legislation, the longer view of actions, the longer view of alliances, of relationships, of all our policies, was its primary focus.

Tough questions. Questions about consequences of actions, consequences of inaction. That is the essence of the united states senate. And the many lessons I've learned in the 12 years I've been here reinforced my belief in our country, but also reinforced my belief in these institutions, and in particular the Congress of the United States.

For the essence of public confidence is transparency and accountability. That is our institutional responsibility. It is our individual responsibility. And if free people know the facts, if free people are living in a world where there is transparency, where there is accountability, that society will prosper. It will fix its problems. And it will deal with its injustices. Oversight, which we hear much about these days–especially in light of the financial crisis that we are in today–oversight, accountability, is a critical component of our responsibilities.

Article I of the constitution is about the Congress. We are a co-equal branch of government. And if anything I've learned in the 12 years I've been here is the importance of sharing, participating in the governance of our country, being part of that governance, helping make decisions with the president and the executive. If one of those articles of the constitution, and there are three, that set up the co-equal branches of government, the legislative, executive, the judicial. Any time there is an imbalance in governance in a republic, and one of those three becomes too powerful and the other too weak or one too weak, there will be a consequence. There will be a reaction. And it will not tilt in favor of an accountable transparent, open, effective government.

So it's like all things in life, we strive for balance. We strive for balance of governance and the founders of the constitution, this great republic had that as much the central focus as any one part of our government.

I believe this institution, the congress, will be tested more over the next few years. We need a strong president. We need a strong executive. For it is the president and the executive that we charge to carry out the policies that are made and shaped on behalf of the American people in the congress of the united states. They must have the flexibility. They must have the authority to carry those out. But not without the act of participation and partnership of the Congress of the United States. In my opinion, over the last few years, we have allowed that to drift. And I believe it has cost our country dearly.

I've also learned this lesson: bipartisan consensus is the only way a democracy will work. No party has a corner on all of the virtues, nor all the answers. A country of 300 million free people who have every right to express themselves, question their leaders, question their government, must at the end of the day somehow find some accommodation, some consensus to govern, and thereby address the issues and challenges and problems that face our country.

Without that bipartisan consensus, we end in the underbrush of political paralysis. And much of what we have seen in the last two years has been, unfortunately, about political paralysis. We all have to take some responsibility for that. Bipartisan consensus, that has to be the focus of leadership in any institution.

I've learned, also, that a free press is indispensable to a free people. As frustrating as we all know in this business the press can be–sometimes we believe we are treated unfairly, maybe sometimes we are. But there is no substitute in a democracy for a free press. A free press is the indispensable element for a free people.

I've learned, too, that power corrupts. Lord Acton had it right: power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. That doesn't mean we are a nation or body or an institution of corrupt people, or of bad people. But the more authority that's concentrated in too small a space is going to end up with an effect that is not in the best interest of a free people. Concentrations of power in the hands of a few is dangerous to a democracy. We all, who exercise some power as national leaders, must be mindful of this reality and stay vigilant to this reality.

The next president, who will assume as big an inventory of challenges and problems as any president, in my opinion, since Franklin Roosevelt on March 4th, 1933, must immediately reach to the congress to make the congress a partner, regardless of who the new president is, reach to the American people and begin building a consensus of governance in this country. There will be differences, there will be strong debates. There must be, should be. But in the end we must reach some objective, some end point, and that is to fix a problem.

We did that last night on the floor of the United States Senate. Not that what we passed in this economic stabilization act will fix all the problems. It won't. But it is important that America, our markets, the world bring back some confidence in our governance and our systems, thereby bringing all that does flow from that confidence in our market system the elements of commerce and trade and the possibilities to build a better life.

This next president will be faced with those challenges; so will this next congress. I believe that that will occur. Not just because the American people expect it and demand it, but they deserve it. And I don't think the next president or the next congress will fail. There is no perfect solution. No easy answer. But that's why we have leaders. That's why we have governance.

I want to go back to accountability for a moment. Because that is such an elemental part of anyone's life. And we're all accountable in life, our personal lives, private lives, public lives. We're all accountable to someone.

I want to read a very short statement. As a matter of fact I have this hanging in my reception room in my office. This was a handwritten statement that was found in the coat pocket of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was found at the cleaners. And this was a note that he wrote in his hand that he had on June 6th, 1944, the beginning of the Normandy Invasion, the invasion of Europe. We all recall that was d-day.

This was what then General Eisenhower, who was the commanding general wrote, in the event that d-day was a failure:

"our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."

Now that is accountability. That is accountability. This one simple, honest, handwritten statement should be as much a guiding point for all of us in public office as any one thing.

I've also learned over the last 12 years that democracy actually does work. As raw as it is, it works. We in politics, we in government, government itself, the institution of government only reflects society. Politics reflects society. We respond, we react in a democracy. But the countervailing pressures, the countervailing dynamics, the countervailing debates, and philosophies, and opinions, and positions, they balance the wheel in a remarkable way. I'm not near wise enough to understand it all. I've observed it, I've participated in it for up to 12 years. It works. It works. That's why transparency is so important. So the American people can see it, and feel it, and understand it, and be part of it.

We live in an imperfect world. This are no perfect solutions. We are all imperfect people. But institutions are important because within the imperfect world, and in the process of trying to make a better world, maybe some day a perfect world, process is important because it gets us to where we want to be. It's a highway. It's a process. And we do that well here, as well as anywhere in the world. And we're always striving to make it better.

I occasionally think about this great republic–how it was formed, when it was formed. A couple of things fairly recent come to mind when we think of less than 100 years ago. Women -- women in America could not vote. Less than 100 years ago women did not have right to vote. But we addressed that, we fixed that. We fixed it through amendment 19 in our constitution.

Up until the mid 1960's, does anyone really believe that an African-American had any hope or possibility to be a nominee for president of the united states? Maybe even be president some day? The voting rights act, civil rights act of the mid 60's changed that. So we know the system can work.

These are defining times. We are living through a global reorientation. And one of the great responsibilities this body will have, the next president will have, we all will have, is to reintroduce America to the world. The world does not know who we are. Part of that's our fault. Part of that's not our fault. 6.5 billion people, 40% of those 6.5 billion under the age of 19 years old. Most people alive today were not alive during or after world war II. This can be done. It must be done. America is a great country because we are a good people.

I'd like to take my last minute in my comments today to read from a poem that I have distributed to friends and staff for 30 years. I do not know the author of this poem, and I never have. And i have never found out who the author of this poem is. But I have put it on a piece of glass and distributed hundreds and hundreds of copies to people I have worked with over the years, different things I've done.

And I end my remarks, Mr. President, this way this afternoon, by reciting this poem entitled, "The man in the glass," because it reflects on each of us. But most poignantly, it reflects on each of us who has a responsibility to serve the public and be accountable and honest:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,

And the world makes you king for a day

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn't your father or mother or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back in the glass.

You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum

And think you're a wonderful guy

But the man in the glass says you're only a bum

If you can't look him straight in the eye.

He's the fellow to please, never mind all the rest

For he's with you clear to the end

And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you've cheated the man in the glass.

Mr. President, thank you. I yield the floor.

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