Farewell Speech of United States Senator Evan Bayh, deliveredÂ Wednesday, December 15,2010.
Remarks as prepared for delivery on the floor of the United States Senate
Mr. President, if I may be permitted a few points of personal privilege before my formal remarks.
First, to my wife Susan to whom I am grateful for 25 years of marriage. I wouldn’t have been elected dogcatcher without Susan’s love and support. I often remember the story during my first campaign of meeting an elderly women who held my hand, looked up into my eyes and said, “young man I’m going to vote for you.” When I asked her why she said, “because I met your wife. You did just fine with the most important decision you will ever make, I will trust you with the other ones too!” Darling, I can never thank you enough. She was a wonderful first lady, is a phenomenal mother, and is my partner for life.
Next, I would like to express my gratitude to my parents. Even though they were very busy, I never doubted that I was the most important thing in their life. There is no question that my devotion to public service stems from their commitment. I have always admired my father’s
selfless commitment to helping our state and nation. I am proud to follow in his footsteps in the Senate and to share his name. My mother taught me even from the depths of adversity can come hope. I miss her but suspect she is watching from on high today.
Next, to my wonderful sons Nick and Beau, the joys of my life. They came into our lives when I was Governor and were barely three when I was sworn into the Senate. They are the joys of my life. I hope that one day they will draw inspiration as I did from their upbringing in public service and will also choose to devote themselves in some way to making our country and state better places. I am so proud of you both my sons.
Next, to my devoted staff and the staff that works here in the Senate. My personal staff has had the thankless task over 12 years of making me look better then I deserve. They have never let me down. To the extent that I have accomplished anything on behalf of the public, it is thanks to their tireless efforts and devotion. Each could have worked fewer hours and made more money doing something else. But they chose public service. It has been an honor to work with you. I will miss each of you and can only hope that we will remain in touch throughout the years. No one has been privileged to have better support than me. To the men and women who work in the Senate and make it possible for us to do our jobs, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude. You have always been unfailingly courteous and professional. The public is fortunate to have the benefits of your devotion. On behalf of a grateful nation and thankful senator let me express our collective thanks.
Next, to my colleagues. More about each of us later but let me simply say it has been the privilege of my lifetime to get to know each of you. There is not one of you who is not exceptional in some way or about whom I do not have a fond recollection. Each of you occupies
a special place in my heart. I am especially fortunate to have served my career with Senator Richard Lugar. I have often thought that Congress would function better if all members could have the kind of relationship that we have been blessed to enjoy. He has been unfailingly thoughtful and supportive. Even though we have occasionally differed on specific issues, we have never differed on our commitment to the people of our state or to the strength of our friendship. Dick, thanks to you and Char for so much.
Finally, to the wonderful people of Indiana for whom I’ve been privileged to work almost my entire adult life. Hoosiers are hardworking, patriotic, devout and full of common sense. We are Middle America and embrace middle-class values. The more of Indiana we can have here in Washington, the better Washington will be. To my fellow Hoosiers let me say that while my time in the Senate is drawing to a close, my love for you and devotion to our state will remain everlasting.
As I rise to deliver my final remarks on this floor, my mind goes back to my first speech as a United States Senator. It was an unusual beginning. I was the 94th Senator to deliver remarks in the first impeachment trial of a President since 1868. The session was closed to the public. Emotions ran high. Partisan divisions were deep. It was a constitutional crisis, and the eyes of the nation and the world looked to the Senate.
My first day as a Senator I was sworn in as a juror in that trial. There were no rules. All hundred of us gathered in the Old Senate Chamber. The debate was hot. But we listened to each other. We all knew that the fate of the nation and the judgment of history – things more important than party loyalty or ideological purity – was in our hands. Consensus was elusive. Finally, we appointed Ted Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, and Phil Graham, a conservative Republican, to hammer out a compromise. And they did. Their proposal was adopted unanimously. The trial of our chief magistrate, even in the midst of a political crucible, was conducted in accordance with the highest principles of due process and the rule of law. The constitutional balance of powers was preserved; the presidency saved. The Senate rose about the passions of the moment and did its duty.
Three years later the Senate was once more summoned to respond in a moment of crisis. The country had been attacked and thousands killed in an act of suicidal terror. This building had been targeted for destruction and death, and that would have occurred but for the uncommon heroism of ordinary citizens. I was told not to return to my home for fear that assassins might be lying in wait. I picked up my sons from their school, and we spent the night with a neighbor.
Two days later Senators who could make it back to Washington gathered in the Senate Dining Room. There were no Democrats or Republicans there, just Americans. Without exception we resolved to defend the nation and to bring to justice the perpetrators of that horrible crime. The feeling of unity and common purpose was palpable.
Fast forward another seven years. In October 2008, I was summoned late at night to a meeting just off this floor. The financial panic that had been gathering force for several months had attained critical mass. The Secretary of Treasury, Henry Paulson, spoke first. He turned to the new head of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, and said “Ben, give the Senators a status report.” Bernanke, in his low-key professorial manner, said: “The global economy is in free fall. Within 48 to 72 hours we will experience an economic collapse that could rival the Great Depression. It will take millions of jobs and thousands of businesses with it. Companies with which all of you are familiar will fail. Trillions of dollars in savings will be wiped out.”
There was silence.
We looked at each other, Democrats and Republicans, and asked only one question: what can be done? The actions that emanated from that evening helped avoid an economic catastrophe. The jobs of millions and millions of people were saved. Businesses endured. But the measures required were unpopular. My calls were running 15,000 to 20,000opposed and only 100 to 200 in favor of acting. The House initially voted down the measures. The economy teetered on the edge of a precipice. But Senators did their duty. Some sacrificed their careers that night. The economy was saved.
I recount these moments from my tenure to remind us of what this body is capable of at its best. When the chips are down and the stakes are high, Senators – regardless of party, regardless of ideology, regardless of personal cost – doing their duty and selflessly serving the nation we love are capable of great things.
On my office wall hangs a famous print: The Senate in 1850. There is Henry Clay. There, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, John C. Calhoun, William Seward, Stephen Douglas, James Mason, and Sam Houston.
Giants walked the Senate in those days … they still do.
In Profiles In Courage, John Kennedy tells the stories of eight United States Senators whose acts of selflessness and fortitude rescued the Republic in times of trial. Serving this body today are men and women capable of equal patriotism if given the chance – new “Profiles In Courage” waiting to be written.
It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis, a terrorist attack, or a financial calamity to summon from each of us and from this body collectively the greatness of which we are capable. Nor can America afford to wait.
We are surrounded today by gathering challenges that, if unaddressed, will threaten our republic – our growing debt and deficits, our unsustainable energy dependency, increasing global economic competition, asymmetric national security challenges, an aging population, and much, much more.
Each of these is difficult. Each complex. The solutions will not be universally popular. But all can be surmounted, and I am confident that they will with the right leadership from us and the right ideas.
I am confident because I know our history and I know our people. I know all the challenges we have overcome – the wars, the economic hardships, the social turmoil. I know the character of the American people, our resilience, our innate goodness, and our courage – and I know that we can succeed.
But it will not be easy. It will not happen by itself. It is up to us. America is an exceptional nation because each generation has been willing to make the difficult decisions and, yes, the occasional sacrifices, required by their times. America is a great nation not because it is preordained, but because our forbearers both here in the Senate and across the county made it so.
For ten generations the American people have been dedicated to the self-evident truth that all of us are created equal and have been endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. From the beginning, freedom has been a touchstone of our democracy.
Freedom – not from the benevolence of a king, not by the forbearance of the majority, not by the magnanimity of the state – but from the hand of Almighty God.
The freedom to enjoy the fruits of our own labors. The freedom to speak your mind and worship God as you see fit. The freedom to associate with those of your own choosing and to choose those who govern us.
From the hillsides of ancient Athens, to the fields of Runnymede, to the village greens of Lexington and Concord, to the halls of this great Senate, it has always been the same: the innate human longing for independence now finds its truest expression in the American experiment. We are the guardians of that dream.
Each generation of Americans has been called to renew our commitment to this ideal, often in blood, always with sacrifice.
Now is our time.
Now is the time for us to keep faith with those who have come before and to do right by those who will follow, to lift high the cause of Freedom in all of its manifestations within its surest sanctuary, this United States Senate.
All of this was put into perspective for me one day on a visit to Walter Reed Army Hospital. I was visiting wounded soldiers. There was a young Sergeant from Georgia. He had been married three weeks before deploying to Iraq. He was missing his left arm and both legs. His wife sat by his side. A look of dignified calm was on his face. I asked if he was receiving all the care he needed. Yes, he said, he was. I asked if there was anything I could do. No, no there was not. Anything he needed? No. I had never felt so helpless or so insignificant.
I left his room, made my way out the front door of the hospital, walked outside into the bright sunshine, sat upon the curb … and cried.
All I could think of was “what can I do to be worthy of him?” What can each of us do? Look at what he sacrificed for America. What are we prepared to give? Is it too much to think that while soldiers are sacrificing limbs on our behalfthat we can look across the aisle and see not enemies but friends, not adversaries but fellow citizens?
With service men and women laying down their lives, can we not lay down our partisanship and rancor but for awhile?
Can we not remember we are “one nation under God” with a common heritage and a common destiny? Let us no longer be divided into “red” states and “blue” states but reunite once more as fifty red, white, and blue states. As the civil rights leader once reminded us: “we may have arrived on these shores in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.”
My friends, the time has come for the sons and daughters of Lincoln and the heirs of Jefferson and Jackson to no longer wage war upon each other but to instead renew the struggle against the ancient enemies of man: ignorance, poverty and disease. That is why we are here. That is why. If I have been able to contribute even a little to reconciliation among us, then I have done my duty.
My prayer is that in the finest traditions of the Senate – both in my time and my father’s time and in days before – we may serve once again to resolve our differences, meet the challenges that await, and in so doing forge an America future that is worthy of our great past. So that when our children’s children write the history of our time they may truly say of us: here were Americans and Senators worthy of the name.