Senator Joseph Lieberman
Farewell Address to the U.S. Senate
delivered 12 December 2012
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I thank the Chair.
Mr. President, my fourth and final term as a United States Senator will soon come to an end. As I reflect on that reality, I am of course filled with many emotions, but the one that I feel most is gratitude:
Gratitude first to God, Creator of Life and Law, Whose loving -- without Whose loving-kindness nothing would be possible.
Gratitude to America, this extraordinary land of opportunity, which has given someone like me so many opportunities.
Gratitude to the people of Connecticut, who have entrusted me with the privilege of public service for 40 years, the last 24 in the United States Senate.
Gratitude to my Senate colleagues whom I have come to know as friends, and with whom it has been such an honor to serve.
Gratitude to all of the people without whose help, hard work, and support I would never have made it to the Senate or stayed here -- the gifted and hard-working staff who informed and enriched my service here, and the volunteers in my campaigns who gave so much and asked for nothing in return, except that I do what I believed was right.
Gratitude to all of those who labor out of view in the corridors of this Capitol Building, from the maintenance crews to the Capitol Police and everybody else anywhere in this building, thank you for keeping our Capitol running and keeping us safe.
And gratitude, most of all, of course, to my family, for the love, support, and inspiration they have given me every day of my life: my parents, grandparents, and siblings; my children and grandchildren; and Hadassah, my wife of almost thirty years now, the love of my life, who has been my constant companion, supporter, and partner through this amazing adventure.
And so, I want to begin this farewell speech by simply saying thank you all.
I have a lot to be grateful for. But, being a Senator -- and since this is my farewell speech, I do have a few more things I’d like to say.
I am leaving the Senate at a moment in our history when America faces daunting challenges, both domestic and foreign, and when too often our problems seem greater than our government’s ability to solve them.
But I can tell you that I remain deeply optimistic about America’s future and constantly inspired by the special destiny that I am convinced is ours as Americans.
My optimism is based not in theory or hope, but in American history and personal experience. I think particularly about my time in public life, especially the changes that I have witnessed since I took the oath of office as a Senator on January 3rd, 1989.
The fact is that, over the past quarter century, America and the world have become freer and more prosperous.
The Iron Curtain was peacefully torn down, and the Soviet empire defeated. The eternal values of freedom and opportunity, on which America was founded and for which we still stand, have made global gains that were once unimaginable. We have seen the spread of democracy from Central Europe to Southeast Asia, and from Latin America to the Middle East. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, in places like China, India, and just about every other corner of the globe. And technological advances have transformed almost every aspect of our daily lives. When I started here in the Senate, a blackberry was a fruit, and tweeting was something only birds do. No more.
None of these extraordinary developments happened by accident. In fact, to a significant degree, I would say that they were made possible by the principled leadership of the United States, by the global economy and international system that America created with our diplomacy and protected with our military, and by the unique culture of freedom, innovation, and entrepreneurship that flourishes in our country, and that remains the model and inspiration for the rest of the modernizing world.
We have every reason to be proud of the progress of humanity that has happened on America’s watch, and here at home, to be grateful for the countless ways in which our own country has been benefited in the process. We live in a world whose shape and trajectory the United States, more than any other nation, is responsible for. It’s not a perfect world. I know that. But it is a better world than the one we inherited. And in my opinion, it is actually in so many ways a better world than has ever existed before.
Here at home, over the past quarter-century, we have moved closer to the more perfect union our Founders sought -- becoming a more free and open society, in ways, I would guess, those same Founders never could have imagined.
Barriers of discrimination and bigotry that just a few decades ago seemed immoveable have been broken, and the doors of opportunity have been opened wider for all Americans -- regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or disability. During my time here in Washington, we’ve had our first female Secretary of State nominated and confirmed, and our first African-American President elected and reelected. It will forever remain one of my deepest honors that -- thanks to Vice President Gore -- I was given the opportunity to be the first Jewish American to be nominated by a major political party for national office. And incidentally, thanks to the American people, grateful to have received, a half million more votes than my opponent on the other side -- but that’s a longer story.
So while there is still much work to do, and many problems to be solved, I believe we can and should approach our future with a confidence that is based on the real and substantial progress we have made together.
What is required now is to solve the urgent problems we still have. And what is really required to do that leadership -- leadership of the kind that is never easy or common, but which we as Americans know we can summon in times of need, because we have summoned it before.
Today I regret to say as I leave the Senate that the greatest obstacle that stands between us and the brighter American future we all want is right here in Washington. It is the partisan polarization of our politics which prevents us from making the principled compromises on which progress in a democracy depends, and right now, which prevents us from restoring our fiscal solvency as a nation. We need bipartisan leadership to break the gridlock in Washington that will unleash all the potential that is in the American people.
And so I would respectfully appeal to my colleagues -- especially the twelve new Senators who will take the oath of office for the first time next month. I know how hard each of you has worked to get elected to the United States Senate, and I know that you work so hard, because you wanted to come here to make a difference for the better. There is no magic or mystery about the way to do so in the U.S. Senate. It requires reaching across the aisle and finding partners from the opposite party. It means ultimately putting the interests of country and constituents ahead of the dictates of party and ideology.
When I look back at my own career, the legislative achievements I am proudest to have been part of -- passing the Clean Air Act; stopping the genocide in the Balkans; creating the 9/11 Commission and the Department of Homeland Security; reforming the Intelligence Community; reorganizing FEMA: and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- all were achieved only because a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans found common ground.
And that is what is desperately needed in Washington now, to solve our nation’s biggest problems and address our nation’s biggest challenges before they become crises or catastrophes.
Our future also depends upon our nation continuing to exercise another kind of leadership, and that is leadership beyond our borders. This, too, has never been easy or popular. Americans have rarely been eager to entangle ourselves abroad. Especially at times when we have faced economic difficulties at home, as we do now, there has been temptation to turn inward -- to tell ourselves that the problems of the world are not our responsibility, or that we cannot afford to do anything about them.
In fact, the prosperity, security, and freedom of the American people depend more than ever before on what’s happening in the rest of the world -- and so too does the rest of the world depend especially on us.
I know we cannot solve all the planet’s problems by ourselves alone, nor should we try. But the fact is that none of the biggest problems facing the world can or will be solved in the absence of American leadership.
Here, too, I appeal to my Senate colleagues, and again, especially those who will take the oath of office for the first time early in January: Do not listen to the political consultants or others who tell you that you shouldn’t spend time on foreign affairs or national security. They’re wrong. The American people need us, the Senate, to stay engaged economically, diplomatically, and militarily in an ever smaller world.
Do not underestimate the impact you could have by getting involved in matters of foreign policy and national security -- whether by using your voice to stand in solidarity with those who are struggling for the American ideal of freedom in their own countries across the globe, or working to strengthen the foreign policy and national security institutions of our own country, or by rallying our citizens to embrace the role that we as a country must play on the world stage, as both our interests and our values demand.
None of the challenges we face today, in a still dangerous world, is beyond our ability to meet. Just as we ended the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, we can stop the slaughter in Syria. Just as we nurtured the Democratic transition after communism fell in Central and Eastern Europe, we can support the forces of freedom in the Middle East today. And just as we were able to prevail in the long struggle against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we can prevail in the global conflict with Islamist extremism and terrorism that we were forced into by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But all that too will require leadership in the United State Senate -- It will require leaders who will stand against the siren song of isolationism, who will defend our defense and foreign assistance budgets, who will support – when necessary -- the use of America’s military power against our enemies in the world and who will have the patience and determination when the public grows weary to see our battles through until they are won.
Mr. President, I first set foot in this chamber almost exactly fifty years ago -- in the summer of 1963, inspired, like so many of my generation, by President John F. Kennedy and his call to service. I spent that summer right here in the Senate, as an intern for my home state Senator, Abe Ribicoff. He was and remains another personal hero of mine. And although I would never have admitted so publicly back then, because it was so presumptuous, I came away from that experience with the dream that I might someday, somehow, return to serve in this place.
Well, I have been blessed to live that dream.
And that is what America is about.
We have always been a nation of dreamers, whose destiny is determined only by the bounds of our own imagination, and by our willingness to work hard to realize what we have imagined.
Indeed, long before the United States came into being as a government of institutions and laws, it was a dream -- a dream, an implausible and incredible dream, of a country not defined by its borders or its rulers or the ethnicity of its founders, but by a set of eternal and universal principles -- that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are God’s endowment to each of us.
That was the dream that gave us our existence and our purpose as a nation, and it is the dream that for more than two hundred years, through every passing generation, has been reinventing, renewing, enthralling, and surprising us -- the very dreamers who are living the dream.
I leave this chamber as full of faith in the dream called America, as when I stood here nearly a quarter of a century ago to take the oath of office for the first time -- and as when I first came here, nearly a half century ago, as a twenty-one year old, the grandchild of four immigrants to America, the son of wonderful parents who never had the opportunity even to go to college but made sure my sisters and I did, and gave us the confidence to pursue our dreams, which was their American dream for us.
America remains a land of dreams and a nation of dreamers. I know that my own story repeats itself today in millions of American families and their children. And as long as that is so, I know that our best days as a country are still ahead of us.
And so, Mr. President, I will end my remarks today where our country began a long time ago -- with a dream and a prayer: that God will continue to bless the United States of America.
Audio Note: AR-XE = American Rhetoric Extreme Enhancement
Audio Note: AR-XE = American Rhetoric Extreme Enhancement
U.S Copyright Status: Text, Audio = Public domain.