[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text
version below transcribed directly from audio]
Thank you, Joe, my old, dear friend, for those mostly undeserved kind
words. Vice President Biden and I have known each other for a lot of
years now, more than 40, if you're counting. We knew each other back
when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were
too modest to say so.
Joe was already a senator, and I was the Navy's liaison officer to the Senate.
My duties included --
as he mentioned earlier -- escorting senate delegations on overseas trips, and
in that capacity, I supervised the delegation's
luggage, which could require -- now and again when no one of lower
rank was available for the job -- that I carry someone else's bag.
Once or twice that turned out to be the young senator from
I've resented it ever since.
Joe has heard me joke about that before. I hope he has heard, too, my
profession of gratitude for his friendship and love these many years. It's
meant a lot to me. We -- We served in the Senate together for over 20
years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the
fossils who appear before you this evening.
We didn't always agree on the issues. We often argued -- sometimes
passionately. But we believed in each other's patriotism and the
sincerity of each other's convictions. We believed in the institution we
were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to
help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our
country's problems. We believed in our country and in our country's
indispensability to international peace and stability and to the
progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed,
Joe was good company. You all know -- he is good company. So thank you, old friend, for your company and your
service to America.
Thank you, too, to the
National Constitution Center, and everyone
associated with it for this award. Thank you for that video, and for the
all too generous compliments paid to me this evening. I'm aware of the
prestigious company the
Liberty Medal places me in. I'm humbled by it,
and I'll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it.
Some years ago, I was present at an event where an earlier Liberty Medal
recipient spoke about America's values and the sacrifices made for
them. It was 1991, and I was attending the ceremony commemorating the
50th anniversary of the
attack on Pearl Harbor. The World War II
veteran, estimable patriot and good man, President George Herbert Walker Bush,
a moving speech at the
USS Arizona memorial. I remember it very
well. His voice was thick with emotion as he neared the end of his
address. I imagine he was thinking not only of the brave Americans who
lost their lives on December 7th, 1941, but of the friends he had served
with and lost in the Pacific where he -- where he had been the Navy's youngest
"Look at the water here, clear and quiet" he directed,
One day, [in]
what now seems another lifetime...it wrapped its arms around the finest
sons any nation could ever have, and it...carried them to a better world.
He could barely get out the last line, "May God bless them. And may God
bless America, the most wondrous [land] on Earth."
The most wondrous land on earth, indeed.
I've had the good fortune to
spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land. It's not been
perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the
country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I've
tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I've been repaid a
thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the
satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a
bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so
What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling,
intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent
country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of
human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and
anger of our politics, we are blessed.
We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is
possible, the land of the immigrant's dream, the land with the storied
past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs
and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the
consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of
sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless
rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your
party's nomination for President.
We are blessed, and we've been a blessing to humanity in turn. The
international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and
that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and
poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land -- This wondrous
land has shared its
treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help
another -- to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own
civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the
America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a
century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to
refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to
remain "the last best hope of earth"1
for the sake of some half-baked,
spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find
scapegoats than solve problems is as -- is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any
other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash -- the
We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the
custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We've
done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we
have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral
obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than
shame on ourselves if we don't. We will not thrive in a world where our
leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn't deserve to.
I'm the luckiest guy on earth. I have served America's cause -- the
cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of
freedom and equal justice -- all my adult life. I haven't always served
it well. I haven't even always appreciated what I was serving. But among
the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now
that I was part of something important that drew me along in its wake
even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not,
along for the ride as America made the future better than the past.
And I've enjoyed it, every single day of it, the good ones and the not
so good ones. I've been inspired by the service of better patriots than
me. I've seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes
and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity,
sacrifices that were much harder than the service ever asked of me. And I've
seen the good they've done, the lives they've freed from tyranny and
injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they've made achievable.
May God bless them. May God bless America, and give us the strength and
wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous
land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and
danger, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America
to become another, better place. What greater cause could anyone ever
Thank you again for this honor. I'll treasure it.