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Kennedy Pays Tribute To Senator Paul Sarbanes

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For many of us on this side of the aisle, there is a feeling of excitement and possibility for the next Congress. But sadly that Congress will no longer have the wise counsel, extraordinary talent, and perceptive insights of our friend and colleague of many years, the outstanding Senior Senator from Maryland, Paul Sarbanes.

Over the course of his 30 years in the Senate, Paul has been a consistently eloquent voice of reason, compassion, and great intellectual depth. He has brought nothing but dignity to this historic chamber, and he eminently deserves his place of honor as the longest-serving Senator in the history of the State of Maryland.

As a member of the Banking Committee, he's been a respected leader in expanding and enhancing the economic vitality of America, especially urban America, through his strong support for housing, transportation, and financial policies that make sense for the nation and its people. In recent years, he guided into law one of the most significant reforms of corporate governance in more than half a century.

As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he's been a highly respected voice on many of the most serious challenges we face on foreign policy. He was an opponent of the war in Iraq from the beginning, and he was a leader in the Iran-Contra investigation in the 1980's.

He believes deeply in the importance of public service. Drawing on his wide learning, he often speaks about the great importance that the ancient Greeks placed on public service. I understand he tells young students that in ancient Athens, people who involved themselves only in private life were called "idiotes", which is the original source of the word "idiot" in English.

Paul has always been a strong defender of the highest ideals of the United States at home and for a peaceful world that respects human rights.

Because of his leadership and the policies he's long championed, America's cities are reclaiming their historical role as the heart of American commerce and culture, and today's shareholders have new confidence in the integrity of the stocks and bonds they invest in and depend so heavily on.

It's a record of accomplishment that has improved the lives of millions of our people and has helped to restore faith in American business, at a time when public confidence in corporate America was badly shaken and storm clouds were gathering over the American economy.

It's also the record of a patient, deliberative and active Senate workhorse, who has dedicated his career to the mastery of complicated, nuanced, and often seemingly insoluble problems at home and in the wider world. It's the record as well of a public servant who responded to the nation's call to deal with some of the most difficult challenges of corruption and incompetence in our lifetime.

From the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon, to the Iran-Contra investigation and the Whitewater hearings, to the way he shone a bright light on the outrageous and predatory lending practices that exploit lower-income Americans and keep so many hard-working citizens mired in poverty, Paul Sarbanes was a Senator who could always be relied on to take the assignment seriously, prepare brilliantly, and make decisions on the facts, on the rule of law, and his firm belief in the need for justice and fairness in public life.

Needless to say, he was a match for even the best of witnesses. I doubt that any other Senator could go head-to-head with a witness in a hearing as skillfully as Paul Sarbanes could do with Alan Greenspan.

Paul's also been a profile in courage. He voted for what he thought was right, without regard to the political consequences. And as his long and strong support by the people of Maryland made clear, they respected him all the more because of it.

Few Senators we've been blessed to serve with can match Paul Sarbanes when it comes to decency, intelligence, or mastery of policy. It's a privilege to listen to him and learn from him in Senate debate. He can champion a proposal he favors with great skill and eloquence, and he can also utterly dissect a flawed proposal point by point. It can be a very distressing experience to oppose him on an issue and have him do the same thing to your side of the argument.

I'm fortunate to have supported Paul many more times than I opposed him. But regardless of which side you were on, his motivation in debate was always clear - to achieve the best outcome for the public good, and to do so by opening his opponents' eyes and minds, not by harshly attacking their positions.

Elizabeth Drew well captured this quality of Paul in her assessment of life in Washington during Watergate. She wrote of the young Baltimore Congressman who, with just three years in Congress, found himself in the thick of the House impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. He won the attention and respect of the nation when his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee chose him to be the manager of the first article of impeachment, for obstruction of justice. As Liz Drew wrote:

"History and process lift people, and they have lifted this group - and given the public a chance to see it. Paul Sarbanes would not have looked at all bad at the Constitutional Convention; he might have been one of the great ones."

I certainly agree. As we say farewell to this outstanding Senator of our time, we will forever be grateful to this Greek immigrant son of Maryland for all he has done to make our country and our world a better place, and for consistently elevating the quality of life in the Senate we all love so deeply.

Fifty years ago, Paul was a young student at Oxford University in England on a Rhodes Scholarship, founded over a century ago by the wealthy British statesman whose goal was to encourage students in the English-speaking world and other countries to be involved in public service and "join the world's fight."

Paul Sarbanes has helped to lead that fight for half a century, and I'm sure that Cecil Rhodes would be very proud of him.

We'll miss you Paul. We wish you and Christine great happiness in the years to come. You're irreplaceable, but we take some comfort in the knowledge that a new young Sarbanes, blessed with the same intellect and commitment to public service, will be joining us in January as a member of the House of Representatives.

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