October 27, 1999
Mr. President, Mr. speaker, distinguished members, colleagues and friends: to be perfectly honest with you, an occasion such as this inspires somewhat mixed feelings. Of course I am grateful to the Congress for recognizing Betty and me in this way. At the same time, I know that it is customary for former Presidents to lie in state in this magnificent rotunda. Listening to all those fulsome tributes, I wondered if maybe you weren't jumping the gun a bit. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was still here.
Today Betty and I have come home--home, to this city that holds so many memories, to this building that I cherish, and this institution that I love. I hope you agree Mr. Speaker, that age has its privileges-among them the right to offer whatever perspective comes from having lived a long and eventful life.
There is something else I learned at an early age, something I would heartily recommend to anyone who contemplates a life in politics. I learned that most people are mostly good most of the time. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, there are no enemies in politics--just temporary opponents who might be with you on the next roll call.
My partner on the EV and Jerry Show, Everett Dirksen, had a great line: "I live by my principles, and one of my principles is flexibility." Ev understood that healthy partisanship is the lifeblood of American Democracy. Yet the clash of ideas should never be confused with a holy war. Some people equate civility with weakness, and compromise and surrender. I couldn't disagree more.
I come by my political pragmatism the hard way, for my generation has paid a heavy price in resistance to this century's extremists--to the dictators and utopians and social engineers who are forever condemning the human race for being all too human.
In the course of 86 years, I have seen more than my share of miracles. I remain convinced that politics is a noble calling, one worthy of enlisting the idealism and commitment of young America. History tells us that it is only a matter of time before your generation is tested--just as mine was tested by economic depression, foreign tyranny, and the hateful traditions of Jim Crow. To you will fall the responsibility for crafting a political process that rises above focus group and sound bites; for supplementing material prosperity with spiritual purpose.
Outwardly your America may not look the same as ours. New technologies and industries, new forms of communication and medical breakthroughs-- these or more promise to expand the frontiers of life in the new millennium.
strongly disagree with the cynics,
skeptics, and pessimists who condemn
and criticize America's record
in the 20th Century. Our Nation's
achievements are significant:
1) America won two World Wars against oppression and aggression
2) We overcame the catastrophic economy depression of the 1930s
3) Since WWII we were successful against five economic recessions
4) Our scientists solved the scourge of polio and will, I'm sure, find the answer to AIDS.
5) America's astronauts planted the stars and stripes on the moon.
6) Finally Democratic Capitalism won the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The Iron Curtain was eliminated by our political and economic freedom.
But amidst all that is new, I hope you never lose the old faith in an America that is bolder, freer, and more just with each passing generation. For America is nothing if not a work in progress.