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Public Statements

Farewell to the Senate

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, I rise today on behalf of myself and my wife Kathy to thank the people of New Hampshire for giving us the great honor and privilege to represent them.

This is an extraordinary body, the Senate. It is filled with wonderful people. I look around this room and I see a lot of them, friends, people I have had the chance to do work with. I admire them immensely. I thank them for their friendship. And when people ask me about leaving the Senate, what is the thing I am going to miss the most, I always say, it is the people, the people of the Senate, because they are special, dedicated to making this country a better place, dedicated to doing their jobs well, dedicated to serving America.

So I thank you for the great honor and privilege that you have given Kathy and me to allow us to serve and participate in this body with yourselves and your spouses. I want to thank everybody else who has been so helpful throughout our career, the folks here at the dias, the staff, people in the cloakroom, throughout this building. I mean, there are so many people who make this Senate work, people working in the furniture room, and people working in the hallways, our staffs, obviously.

This is a special place filled with people who are committed to making the Senate work. I thank them for allowing Kathy and me to be part of that. But I want to take a point of personal privilege here and especially thank my wife Kathy who is here today. You are not allowed to acknowledge people, I know that, but I am going to violate the rules. My wife is sitting right up there. Kathy.

We have been married 37 years, and for 32 of those years we have held elective office; 9 major campaigns, innumerable campaigns such as those for other people that we have participated in. Through this whole intensity--and we all know, who have participated in this process, the intensity of the elective process in this Nation--there has been a rock and a solid force in our family. She has raised three extraordinary children, Molly, Sarah and Joshua, who have been exceptional in their own right and have done exceptional things, even though they are still young by our standards. Some of them think they are aging a little bit, but they are still young.

Their value system and their belief in this Nation and their willingness to give of themselves to other people is a direct expression of the values Kathy has given them; sometimes a little overcompetitive on occasion, but that has been one of her strengths also. We have been through some hard times and some good times, and always she has been there to basically be our lighthouse. So I express my love and thanks to her.

Bismarck, at the beginning of the 20th century said--first I should say, Kathy told me I should not walk back and forth like this. I have been doing it for 18 years. And she says it makes people sick who are watching it on TV. Like the famous time she called up, and we were having a colloquy, and there were a bunch of us talking this way, and I am talking to, I think, JOHNNY ISAKSON. She calls the floor staff and says: Go out and tell him to turn around and face the cameras.

Bismarck, at the turn of the 20th century--of course, Bismarck was one of the true great forces in Europe throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s--said that: The defining fact of the 19th century was that England and the United States spoke the same language.

What I think he meant was that the defining fact of the 19th century was that England and the United States had a value system which believed in the individual, in liberty, democracy, and markets. It was a value system that grew out of the Scottish Enlightenment, people such as John Locke, Hutcheson, Adam Smith.

In the 20th century, if you look at it, it was a test of that value system against the other value systems which had come up over the years, mostly totalitarianism. There was a test of democracy against fascism, a test of democracy against totalitarian socialism. And we won. We won that test.

The second big challenge of the 20th century was a test of how you would create prosperity for people, a test of markets versus communism, of markets versus, again, totalitarian socialism. And by the end of the 20th century, there was no longer an issue, no longer an issue. The American philosophy of government had come to dominate the world--democracy, individual liberty, and markets. The whole world was moving in that direction. Now we are 10 years into the next century, and we are challenged again, challenged again. This time the challenge is different: Substantive, significant. Maybe not at the same level that the Soviet Union represented a challenge, because they had the capacity to destroy us, maybe not even at the same level of fights against Japan, fascist Japan and fascist Germany. But the challenges are huge and they will determine our future as a country.

They basically, in my opinion, break into two primary areas: The first is, of course, the threat of a terrorist group using a weapon of mass destruction against us. We must acknowledge that 9/11 fundamentally changed our culture, changed our personality as a nation, and caused us to realize our vulnerability. That threat of terrorism is driven by a fanatical belief in a religious philosophy. We should not deny that. We should acknowledge that. Because in order to defeat that threat we have to understand that.

The second major thrust that I see as our concern as we go forward is clearly of our own making. It is a positive making, but it is still an issue for us, and that is we have a nation which has always been extraordinarily prosperous, where one generation has always passed on to the next generation a better, more prosperous, and more secure country. Yet today we are on the cusp of not being able to do that again, because we have this population, of which I am a member, called the baby boom generation, which is taking our retired population from 35 million to 70 million people. As a result, we and the rest of the world, and in Japan for that matter, because of this demographic shift, find ourselves confronted with governments which are struggling to figure out how they are going to pay for what our entitlement society is. The way I have sort of phrased it is that when a populist government, a government that moves by election of the people--when a populist government meets a massive demographic shift in an entitlement society, you get unsustainable debt. That is something we confront right now and need to stand up to.

Those two streams are our biggest concerns, or at least my biggest concerns as I leave the Senate: How do we defend ourselves against a fanatical movement, which has an asymmetry base, which wants to do us harm,--they are not a nation state, we cannot find them easily--but wants to do us harm and will do us harm if they have the capacity, and will do it with a weapon of mass destruction? And, secondly, how do we deal with this shift in our society--this is driving the populist movement, which is making our structure of government unaffordable in many ways?

America's greatness and our ability to address the issues such as this comes from our people and from our Constitution. It is that Constitution which embraces, basically, the liberties that allow our people to create prosperity and give this Nation its strength.

Our freedom and prosperity is absolutely resilient. There is no question about that. But government can either be an enabler of that freedom and that resilience or it can be a stifler of it. Whether we are going to succeed, I believe, is whether we continue to assert the core values which allow us to govern well, and they all basically arise from our Constitution.

I have the good fortune to sit at the Webster desk. Daniel Webster was a Senator from Massachusetts. New Hampshire, in an act of appropriate stealthiness, had the desk designated to the senior Senator from New Hampshire by statute in the 1970s. It is a great honor to have the right to sit at this desk. Webster and Clay kept this Nation together at a time when had it been torn apart. It would no longer have existed, because we were not capable. We had no Lincoln, and we had no strength of the North to survive.

Webster, in his speech on the Compromise of 1850, said:

I mean to stand upon the Constitution. I need no other platform. I know but one country. No man can suffer too much. No man can fall too soon if he suffers on or if he fails in defense of the liberties of the Constitution of our country.

At the center of our constitutional form of government, which was designed by Madison and Randolph, which was built on the concept that there should never be an overly powerful branch of the government, at the center of this government is the Senate. It is the cauldron of liberty for our Nation.

Why is that? Because it is the place where issues are aired, people are heard, amendments are made, and no one gets to shut down the minority until a supermajority decides to do so. The rights of the minority are the source of the power of our government. They are the source of the power of our Constitution. They are the source of the power of our liberty.

This is the center, this institution is the center of the rights of the minority. I have been in the minority. I have been in the majority. It is almost irrelevant from the standpoint of the importance of the role of the Senate, because it is the Senate that gives voice to all Americans, that does not allow us to shut out any American or any thought process in America that is legitimate and which can come to the floor of the Senate and make its case.

I have often wondered, what would this government be like if there were no Senate? Well, it would be a parliamentary government, for all intents and purposes, lurching to the left, lurching to the right, and as a result, in many ways, undermining individual rights, but, more importantly, having no continuity of purpose or force.

We play politics in this city and in this country between the 40 yard lines, for all intents and purposes. We are not a government that ever moves too radically left or radically right. That is the way it should be. That is the way it should be. In this institution, compromise is required. To govern you must reach agreement. We are 300 million people obviously of a diverse view. If we are going to govern 300 million people, we must listen to those who have legitimate views on both sides of the aisle.

So as I leave this Chamber, I want to say this, simply: It has been a huge honor to have the chance to serve here. It is something that is the highlight of our career, Kathy's and mine. We move on with reservations, we hopefully move on to something equally interesting, but it will never have the same status as being in the Senate.

This, to me, is the ultimate job when it comes to the governance of America. I simply ask you who stay here--and I know this will be done--continue to carry the torch. Understand that it is the Senate that is the center of the liberty that leads to the prosperity our people expect. It is the Senate that is the center of our Constitution.

Thank you very much.


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