Don’t Let the Fire Go Out

Farewell to the U.S. Senate

Floor Statement
November 18, 2002

Two years ago when I came to the U.S. Senate, it was with a heavy heart.

Life had not turned out the way it was supposed to.

My husband, not I, was supposed to have been sworn into the U.S. Senate.

And I was to be seated in the gallery, beaming with delight at the joint victory we had won. 

But as someone once pointed out,

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be . . . it’s the way it is.

It’s how you cope with it that makes a difference.”

Well, I had some difficult lessons to learn on that front.

It was not by chance, that as I stepped from the dais after being sworn in, that the first to welcome me was Senator Joe Biden.

He had come to this chamber many years ago after a tragic loss in his own life.

He told me the story of having been greeted by Senator McClelland of Arkansas who looked him in the eye and said, “Work . . . hard work.  It’s the sure path to healing.”

Senator Biden said, “I thought at the time, ‘How calloused that advice was.

He just doesn’t understand how deeply I hurt.'”

But he later found out that McClelland spoke from having experienced a family tragedy of overwhelming proportion.

Joe took the advice to heart, and passed it on to me.

You were right, Joe, and I thank you for that wisdom.

There has been much work to thrown ourselves into during the 107th Congress.

It has been a monumental period in our nation’s history.

A time marred by

. . . deep political divisions,

. . . economic upheavals,

. . . corporate corruption,

. . . threats to our national security, and

. . . the gathering clouds of war.

Through all these disasters, we have seen a triumph of the American spirit. 

Yes, Americans have taken to heart the advice that Louis Pasteur once gave to a group of young people. 

He said: “Do not let your selves be discouraged. . .  by the sadness of certain hours. . . which pass over nation.”

Thankfully, the Congress has refused to be discouraged. 

We have endured anthrax attacks,

. . . dismantled offices,

. . . tightened security measures,

. . . major alterations to the Capitol complex,

. . . not to mention, three shifts in legislative leadership.

Through it all we have managed to address a number of important issues. 

. . . We passed a historic tax cut,

. . . reformed education,

. . . overhauled campaign finance laws,

. . . called corporate America to a higher standard, and

. . . prepared our nation to respond to global terrorism.

We have found that being the guardian of freedom is a relentless and consuming work. 

The immensity of our task would cripple a lesser people.     

Rather than be cowered by events, America and her institutions have always been emboldened during times of crisis.

I am convinced that the Author of Liberty, who has blessed and protected our nation in the past, will enable us to meet the stern responsibilities of the present. 

As you take on this new burden, I will not be among you, but my prayers will be with you.

I leave realizing that to have served in the U.S. Senate–for even a short while–is an honor afforded very few in their lifetime. 

I am forever grateful to the people of Missouri who have allowed me and my family to serve them for three generations.

Reporters often ask me to reflect upon those years. 

Most recently I was asked, “What impressed you most during your time in the Senate?”

I replied that it was the “diligence beyond duty” shown by all who are a part of this Senate chamber—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, staff, parliamentarians, clerks, pages, security officers, maintenance workers, elevator operators. 

All spend long hours serving America. 

For the most part, their names and their selfless deeds will go unrecorded, but their life and work demonstrate a deep devotion to duty.

Mr. President, in recognition of the loyalty and exemplary work of my own staff, I would like permission to insert their names in the record.

Reflecting on this legislative body, I recognize, sadly, that two great towers of strength will be missed.

My friend and colleague, Max Cleland, from his wheel chair stands taller than most men ever will.

The U.S. Senate will be greatly diminished by his absence.

That we will no longer hear the spirited voice of Paul Wellstone summoning us to “stand up and fight,” will likewise diminishes the fervor of this body. 

Our nation and party have been further blessed by the courageous leadership of Senator Daschle and Senator Harry Reid.

They have shown the “grace under pressure” that marks true greatness.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the “women of the Senate” whose friendships have blessed and brightened my life.

I am grateful, too, for the wholehearted and unwavering support of my Democratic colleagues in my every endeavor.

I especially appreciate those from the other side of the aisle—though far fewer in number—who graciously encouraged me as well.

Tradition affords those who leave the Senate, either by their own will, or the will of the electorate, the opportunity to reflect on their time in this historic chamber—to perhaps even engage in some unsolicited advice.

My advice comes, not as a seasoned insider, but as one who came for a season to serve among you.

Mine are simple maxims that spring from a heart filled with love for the U.S. Senate and for my country.

When you think on the role of government, seek a balance between one that does everything and one that does nothing.

Where there is talk of war, let there be the free and open debate that becomes our great nation.

When there are judges to appoint, let them be selected for their temperament and jurisprudence, not for a political ideology that satisfies a special interest group.

When you lay out an energy and environment policy, let it not be for short-term gain, but for the well-being of our grandchildren and the survival of our planet.

When you speak of “leaving no child behind,” let that not be a mantra, but a mission, fervent and funded.

When you think on the health care needs of children, families and seniors–and I hope that will be often—I urge you to lay partisanship aside . . . and heed the plight of the hurting and helpless in our society.              

I will vote for the Homeland Security bill, as I have each step of the way.  For we must make certain that the information disconnect that allowed a 9-11 to occur, never happens again. 

During an earlier global conflict, President Franklin Roosevelt called for, “stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth.”

That is what I am hoping this consolidation and coordination of effort will help us to accomplish.

But as I vote for this bill, I do so with a caution. 

The pursuit of terrorists and the protection of basic freedoms is our greatest challenge in the years ahead.

But in the quest to uproot terrorism, let us take care to preserve those precious liberties upon which our nation is founded and upon which democracy depends.

I have no doubt that in this good and godly work, we will ultimately succeed.

Let me conclude by saying, that this farewell to the U.S. Senate is a bittersweet moment for me, one that churns up a mixture of memories and emotions.

Earlier this year I took time out to visit the Corcoran Gallery to see the Jackie Kennedy exhibit. 

One of the displays featured a handwritten letter that Mrs. Kennedy sent to a friend after completing an extensive project at the White House.

She wrote: “How sad it is when a work we love doing is finally finished.”

I know how she felt.

But I still believe—as did my husband—that public service is a good and noble work, worthy of our lives.

Perhaps a former member of this chamber said it best.  He was not of my party, but he was certainly of my principles.

Senator Lowell Weicker wrote:  “For all the licks anyone takes by choosing public service, there is the elation of having achieved for good purpose what none thought possible.  And such feelings far exceed . . . whatever the hurt for having tasted the battle.”

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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