Address by Howard H. Baker, Jr., July 14, 1998
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Introduction by Senator Trent Lott
My colleagues, thank you all for being here this afternoon. Welcome, Senator Baker and Senator Kassebaum.
Though we come together this evening in this stately and formal Old Senate Chamber, our convocation has the light spirit of a family reunion. It was a thrill for me to see the way our colleagues reacted to Senator Baker on both sides of the aisle. Even some that could not be here tonight made a special point of coming by to speak with Senator Baker.
Tonight we welcome, as the second speaker in our Leader's Lecture series, a greatly esteemed member of our Senate family. We are hoping this will be something that we can continue throughout this year and into next year, with Senator Byrd being our invited speaker in September.
I am delighted that the American public has joined us this evening through television. They will hear this outstanding gentleman who will give us, I am sure, a great deal of his usual wisdom--and much wit. I hope they will also sense the enormous affection for our speaker tonight, which is almost palpable in this room.
I wish they could also see the display of photographs in the corridor outside this Chamber, for our speaker is, as we here all know, an accomplished shutterbug. His skill in capturing with his camera the historic occasions of which he was a participant makes clear that he did not have to pursue politics as a profession. The man actually had talent.
But public service was in his blood. It was the legacy of his parents, both of whom served in the House of Representatives. It was, as well, the legacy of his father-in-law, Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican Leader in this body from 1959 to 1969.
We were just visiting across the hall in the Republican Leader suite of offices talking about the history of that room and how the British started the fire that burned the Capitol in that very room, and the fact that Senator Dirksen had his desk right there where I have a staff desk right now. There is a lot of history in that suite of rooms where Senator Baker served.
His official biography lists honors and accolades, positions won and positions awarded. But those details do not really reveal the most important aspects of his career.
How, for example, he became the first popularly elected Republican Senator from Tennessee with bipartisan support, a pattern that continued throughout his years in Congress. I was a student at the time at the University of Mississippi Law School. I had seen Republicans before in my life, but it was the first one I had ever seen win an election. Obviously, it had an impact on me. Or how he handled the constitutional crisis of 1974, and putting the Nation's good above all else, nudged it toward a resolution. I should add that my own freshman service on the House Judiciary Committee at that time was one of the most difficult times I have ever experienced, at least in my political life, and I can appreciate, therefore, all the more how really difficult that task was for Senator Baker at the time.
There is nothing in any political science textbook that explains the unique way that he led the Senate, but those who were part of it at the time remember. I have had occasion to talk with my senior colleague from Mississippi, Senator Cochran, about some of the unique ways Senator Baker led the Senate. They remember his cool and his patience, even under personal attack.
They remember how, seemingly nonchalant, he would let a policy battle rage for days on the Senate floor, with each Senator exercising fully their right to debate. And then, when the voices calmed and the tempers died down, there would be an informal gathering in his office. After a while, I am told, the anxious staffers outside would hear laughter, probably the result of an anecdote aptly timed to break the ice and bring about a civil consensus.
I can relate to that process. In fact, one day last year, when some of my best friends were faulting a vote of mine, they referred to me as having acquired "Bakeritis." The man after whom that condition was named called to ask me how I was feeling with my new affliction. I had just one question for him: Is "Bakeritis" fatal?
He assured me it was not, and apparently it is not. Indeed, some of the speaker's most remarkable accomplishments came after he ended his congressional career. Two in particular come to mind tonight.
The first was his extraordinary service as Chief of Staff to President Reagan. Let us be candid. Most Senators would view that position as a tremendous step down, to put it mildly, from the office of Senate majority leader. But our speaker saw things in a different light. His President needed him. And to be blunt, his country needed him in that position at that particular time. Some things were coming apart, and he was the right person, and perhaps the only person, to pull them back together again.
His second remarkable accomplishment after leaving the Senate was to win the heart and take the hand of someone who had long since won all our hearts, Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker.
Now, cynics may think that there is no real romance at all in official Washington. There is, indeed, but you have to know where to find it. Few would fault that it would be in the Senate of the United States.
You have to know where to find real leadership, too, the kind that subordinates ambition to achievement, and ego to the greater good. In 1980, our speaker ran for the Presidency, supported by almost all of his Republican colleagues. But it was not meant to be. A lesser individual might have nursed resentment against the man who defeated him. Instead, this man carried the banner of his triumphal rival, led his forces here in the Senate, and pulled off the Reagan Revolution of 1981.
That took more than skill. It took class. It took a lifetime of dedication to something more important than party or personal advancement. It took Howard Baker, and I am honored to present him to you tonight.
Address by Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.
On Herding Cats
Thank you so much. I am grateful. What a welcome. What a pleasure it is for me to be back here in this historic place and to be among you, my friends, and in many cases former colleagues. I am overwhelmed with the absolutely outrageous introduction Senator Lott has produced for me. It was wonderful to have a chance to visit with him and with most of you before these remarks began. I would like to do more of that, and perhaps we can after this is finished. But first, I would like to make these remarks in response to the leadership's request.
I will express my thoughts on Senate leadership. Perhaps I should start by telling you that the first time I walked into the gallery of the United States Senate, it was almost sixty years ago. My great aunt Mattie Keene was then the personal secretary to the late Senator K.D. McKellar of Tennessee, and I came here to visit her in July of 1939 as a 13-year-old boy. And being the secretary to Senator McKellar, she was able to procure gallery passes, and I visited the hall of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Senate had only the most primitive air conditioning in those days. As a matter of fact, it was principally cooled by a system of louvers, vents and skylights that dated back to 1859, when the Senate vacated this Chamber and moved down the hall to its present home.
But in all fairness, the system didn't work very well against Washington's heat and humidity. As a consequence, Congress was not a year-round institution in those days.
Many of you who know me are now tempted to think that I am going to devote the balance of these remarks to a dissertation on the citizen legislature--a Congress that did its work and went home, rather than a perpetual Congress hermetically sealed in the capital city. But I assure you that will not be my lecture tonight. Besides, I have heard it myself so many times, I am tired of it. In that summer of 1939, in any event, nature and technology offered little choice.
On that same trip in 1939, I traveled even further north--to New York, in the company of the same Aunt Mattie--to attend the New York World's Fair. And there I had my first encounter with a novel technology that would have more profound consequences than air conditioning, and it was television. It was the same K.D. McKellar, my Aunt Mattie's boss who, a mere 3 years later, would help President Roosevelt launch the Manhattan Project that would shortly usher in the nuclear age.
By the way, Senator McKellar was then chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and when President Roosevelt summoned him to the White House to ask him if he could hide a billion dollars for his super top-secret national defense project, Senator McKellar said, "Well, Mr. President, of course, I can--and where in Tennessee are we going to build this plant?"
Perhaps things don't change as much as we think.
I recite all of this personal history not to remind you how old I am, but to remark on how young our country is, how true it is in America that, as William Faulkner wrote, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even the past."
The same ventilation system that Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi presided over the installation of in the Senate Chamber in 1859--which, by the way, was just before he left the Senate to become President of the Confederacy--was still in use when I first came here as a boy, when television and nuclear power were in their infancy.
My friends, we enter rooms that Clay and Webster and Calhoun seem only recently to have departed. We can almost smell the smoke of the fire the British kindled in what is now Senator Lott's office, burning down this building in August of 1814. Incidentally, if you smell any smoke now, I must confess that when my late father-in-law, Everett Dirksen, was in office, he told me that the fireplaces in the leader's offices didn't work because they were sealed when the air conditioning was put in. So when I was elected Republican leader, I asked the Architect of the Capitol what it would take to make these fireplaces work, and the architect said, "Well, a match, perhaps"-- which was one of the few occasions when I found Senator Dirksen to be entirely wrong.
My dear friend, Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, and my good friend Ed Muskie of Maine, with whom I helped write so much of the environmental and public works legislation of the 1970s, have both passed away recently. Jennings Randolph came to Washington with Franklin Roosevelt, taking his oath of office in 1933. And he was still here when Ronald Reagan arrived in 1981. He was a walking history lesson who embodied--and gladly imparted--a half century of American history.
What Makes the Senate Work
You may be wondering by now what all these ruminations have to do with the subject of Senate leadership. The answer is this: What makes the Senate work today is the same thing that made it work in the days of Clay, Webster and Calhoun, in whose temple we gather this evening.
It isn't just the principled courage, creative compromise and persuasive eloquence that these men brought to the leadership of the Senate--important as these qualities were in restoring the political prestige and Constitutional importance of the Senate itself in the first half of the 19th century. By the way, it is interesting to me that at that time an alarming number of our predecessors in the office of the Senate found the House of Representatives more attractive and more promising and left the Senate to find their careers over there.
It isn't simply an understanding of the unique role and rules of the Senate, important as that understanding is. It isn't even a devotion to the good of the country, which has inspired every Senator since 1789.
What really makes the Senate work--as our heroes knew profoundly--is an understanding of human nature, an appreciation of the hearts as well as the minds, the frailties as well as the strengths, of one's colleagues and one's constituents.
My friends, listen to Calhoun himself, speaking of his great rival Clay. He said, "I don't like Henry Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn't speak to him. But by God, I love him."
It is almost impossible to explain that statement to most people, but most Senators understand it instinctively and perfectly.
Here, in those twenty-eight words, is the secret of leading the United States Senate. Here, in the jangle of insults redeemed at the end by the most profound appreciation and respect, is the genius and the glory of this institution.
Very often in the course of my 18 years in the Senate, and especially in the last eight years as Republican Leader and then Majority Leader, I found myself engaged in fire-breathing, passionate debate with my fellow Senators over the great issues of the times: civil rights, Vietnam, environmental protection, Watergate, the Panama Canal, tax cuts, defense spending, the Middle East, relations with the Soviet Union, and dozens more.
But no sooner had the final word been spoken and the last vote taken than I would usually walk to the desk of my most recent antagonist, extend a hand of friendship, and solicit his report on the next issue for the following day.
People may think we're crazy when we do that. Or perhaps they think our debates are fraudulent to begin with, if we can put our passion aside so quickly and embrace our adversaries so readily. But we aren't crazy and we aren't frauds. This ritual is as natural as breathing here in the Senate, and it is as important as anything that happens in Washington or in the country we serve, for that matter.
It signifies that, as Lincoln said, "We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies." It pulls us back from the brink of rhetorical, intellectual, and even physical violence that, thank God, has only rarely disturbed the peace of the Senate.
It is what makes us America and not Bosnia. It is what makes us the most stable government on Earth, and not another civil war waiting to happen.
We are doing the business of the American people. We do it every day. We have to do it with the same people every day. And if we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree, or that we don't like, we would soon stop functioning altogether.
Sometimes we have stopped functioning, and once we did, indeed, have a civil war. By the way, once, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who was born in Strom Thurmond's hometown of Edgefield, came into this Chamber and attacked Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane. It is at those times we have learned the hard way how important it is to work together, to see beyond the human frailties, the petty jealousies, even the occasionally craven motive, the fall from grace that every mortal experiences in life.
Calhoun didn't like Clay. He didn't share his politics. He didn't approve of his methods. But he loved Clay because Clay was like him, an accomplished politician, a man in the arena, a master of his trade, serving his convictions and his constituency just as Calhoun was doing.
Calhoun and Clay worked together because they knew they had to. The business of their young nation was too important--and their roles in that business was too central--to allow them the luxury of petulance.
I read recently that our late friend and colleague Barry Goldwater had proposed to his good friend, then Senator John Kennedy, that the two of them make joint campaign appearances in the 1964 Presidential campaign, debating issues one-on-one, without intervention from the press, their handlers, or anyone else.
Barry Goldwater and John Kennedy would have had trouble agreeing on the weather, but they did agree that Presidential campaigns were important, that the issues were important, and that the public's understanding of their respective positions on those issues was important.
That common commitment to the importance of public life was enough to bridge an ideological and partisan chasm that was both deep and wide. And that friendship, born here in the Senate where they were both freshmen together in 1953, would have served this Nation well, whoever might have won that election in 1964.
Barry Goldwater and I were personal friends, as well as professional colleagues and members of the same political team. Even so, I could not automatically count on Barry's support for anything. Once, when I really needed his vote and leaned on him perhaps a little too hard, he said to his Majority Leader, "Howard, you have one vote, and I have one vote, and we'll just see how this thing turns out."
It was at that moment that I formulated my theory that being leader of the Senate was like herding cats. It is trying to make ninety-nine independent souls act in concert under rules that encourage polite anarchy and embolden people who find majority rule a dubious proposition at best.
Perhaps this is why there was no such thing as a Majority Leader in the Senate's first century and a quarter--and why it is only a traditional, rather than a statutory or constitutional, office still today.
Indeed, the only Senator with a constitutional office is the President pro tempore, who stands third in line of succession to the Presidency of the United States. Our friend Strom Thurmond has served ably in that constitutional role for most of the last 17 years, and I have no doubt that he will serve 17 more.
May I say, in Strom's case, I am reminded of an invitation I recently received to attend the dedication of a time capsule in Rugby, Tennessee, to be opened in 100 years. Unfortunately, I could not attend because of a scheduling conflict, so I wrote them that I was sorry I could not be there for the burying of the time capsule, but I assured them that I would try to be there when they dig it up.
A Baker's Dozen
My friends, these are different times than when Calhoun was Andrew Jackson's Vice President. These are different times than when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader in the 1950s and could wield his power to enforce party discipline with cash and committee assignments, as well as the famous "Johnson treatment."
Today, every Senator is an independent contractor, beholden to no one for fundraising, for media coverage, for policy analysis, for political standing, or anything else. I herded cats. Trent Lott and Tom Daschle have to tame tigers. And the wonder is not that the Senate, so configured, does so little, but that it accomplishes so much.
That it does is a tribute to their talented leadership. They can herd cats. They can tame tigers. They can demonstrate the patience of Job, wisdom of Solomon, the poise of Cary Grant, and the sincerity of Jimmy Stewart--all of which are essential to success in the difficult roles they play.
But for whatever help it may be to these and future leaders, let me now offer a few rules for Senate leadership. As it happens, they are an even Baker's Dozen:
1. Understand its limits. The leader of the Senate relies on two prerogatives, neither of which is constitutionally or statutorily guaranteed. They are the right of prior recognition under the precedent of the Senate and the conceded right to schedule the Senate's business. These, together with the reliability of his commitment and whatever power of personal persuasion one brings to the job, are all the tools a Senate leader has.
2. Have a genuine and decent respect for differing points of view. Remember that every Senator is an individual, with individual needs, ambitions and political conditions. None was sent here to march in lockstep with his or her colleagues and none will. But also remember that even members of the opposition party are susceptible to persuasion and redemption on a surprising number of issues. Understanding these shifting sands is the beginning of wisdom for Senate leaders.
3. Consult as often as possible with as many Senators as possible, on as many issues as possible. This consultation should encompass not only committee chairmen, but as many members of one's party conference as possible in matters of legislation and legislative scheduling.
4. Remember that Senators are people with families. Schedule the Senate as humanely as possible, with as few all-night sessions and as much accommodation as you can manage. I confess with great sin in that category, but it is good advice for the future.
5. Choose a good staff. In the complexity of today's world, it is impossible for a Member to gather and digest all the information that is necessary for him or her to make an informed and prudent decision on major issues. Listen to your staff, but don't let them forget who works for whom.
6. Listen more often than you speak. Once again, as my late father-in-law, Everett Dirksen, once admonished me in my first year in this body, "occasionally allow yourself the luxury of an unexpressed thought."
7. Count carefully and often. The essential training of a Senate majority leader perhaps ends in the third grade, when he learns to count reliably. But 51 today may be 49 tomorrow, so keep on counting.
8. Work with the President, whoever he or she may be, whenever possible. When I became Majority Leader after the elections of 1980, I had to decide whether I would try to set a separate agenda for the Senate, with our brand new Republican majority, or try to see how our new President, with a Republican Senate, could work together as a team to enact our programs. I chose the latter course, and I believe history has proved me right. Would I have done the same with a President of the opposition party? Lyndon Johnson did with President Eisenhower, and history proved him right as well.
9. Work with the House. It is a coequal branch of government, and nothing a Senator does--except in ratifications and confirmations --is final unless the House concurs. Both my father and my step-mother served in the House, and I appreciate its special role as the sounding board of American politics. John Rhodes and I established a Joint Leadership Office in 1977, and it worked very well. I commend the arrangement to others.
10. No surprises. Bob Byrd and I decided more than twenty years ago that, while we were bound to disagree on many things, one thing we would always agree on was the need to keep each other fully informed. It was an agreement we never broke -- not once -- in the eight years we served together as Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate.
11. Tell the truth, whether you have to or not. Remember that your word is your only currency; devalue it and your effectiveness as a Senate leader is over. And always get the bad news out first.
12. Be patient. The Senate was conceived by America's founders as "the saucer into which the nation's passions are poured to cool." Let Senators have their say. Bide your time--I worked for 18 years to get television in the Senate, and the first camera was not turned on until after I left. But patience and persistence have their shining reward. It is better to let a few important things be your legacy than to boast of a thousand bills that have no lasting significance.
13. (The Baker's Dozen) Be civil, and encourage others to do likewise. Many of you have heard me speak of the need for greater civility in our political discourse. My friends, I have been making that speech since late into the 1960s, when America turned into an armed battleground over the issues of civil rights and Vietnam. Having seen political passion erupt into physical violence, I do not share the view of those who say that politics today are meaner or more debased than ever. But in this season of prosperity and peace --which is so rare in our national experience--it ill behooves America's leaders to invent disputes for the sake of political advantage, or to inveigh carelessly against the motives and morals of one's political adversaries. America expects better of its leaders than this, and it deserves better.
I continue in my long-held faith that politics is an honorable profession. I continue to believe that only through the political process can we deal effectively with the full range of the demands and dissents of the American people. I continue to believe that here in the United States Senate, especially, our country can expect to see the rule of the majority co-exist peacefully and constructively with the rights of the minority, which is an interesting concept.
It doesn't take Clays and Websters and Calhouns to make the Senate work. Doles and Mitchells did it. Mansfields and Scotts did it. Johnsons and Dirksens did it. Byrds and Bakers did it. Lotts and Daschles do it now, and do it well. The founders didn't require a nation of supermen to make this government and this country work, but only honorable men and women laboring honestly and diligently and creatively in their public and private capacities.
It was the greatest honor of my life to serve here and to lead here. I learned much about this institution, about this country, about human nature, and about myself in the eighteen years that it was my pleasure to serve the people of the State of Tennessee.
My friends, I enjoyed some days more than others. I succeeded some days more than others. I was more civil some days than others. But the Senate, for all its frustrations and foibles and failings, is indeed the world's greatest deliberative body. And, by God, I love it.
Thank you very much.
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