After 30 years, it was time to give a speech few such long serving senators want to give. Even if you are going on to bigger and better things, as is John Kerry, who will head the State Department.
As he stood for the last time at the small wooden desk used by his predecessors from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, his emotions took over and he could hardly speak. That is rarely a senator’s problem!
His speech was a tribute to him and to the Senate he loves. It brought out the best in John Kerry, someone who has fought for his country and fought for what he believed in his whole life.
It was a positive speech that praised the Senate and exhibited an optimism rare in Washington these days. Over three decades John Kerry has seen this Senate work and he told the stories of his colleagues and his relationships that brought its greatness to light.
From John McCain to Ted Kennedy, from Orrin Hatch to Tom Harkin, from Joe Biden to Jesse Helms, Kerry praised his colleagues and told the stories that matter.
He had plenty of advice for the new members and for the institution. He made clear he was less concerned about the rules than the relationships, less worried about friction if compromise can be forged and comity can prevail.
John Kerry called for courage in the face of political calculation: “I’m hardly the first and will not be the last to call on Congress to remember why we’re here, to prioritize our shared interests above the short-term, to bridge the breadth of the partisan divide and reach across the aisle and take the long view.”
He traced the history of the Senate from Daniel Webster to John C. Calhoun to Lyndon Johnson and made clear that he did not view it as broken but he did issue a challenge:
If the Senate favors inaction over courage and gimmicks over common ground, the risk is not that we will fail to move forward. It is that we will fall behind, we will stay behind and we will surrender our promise to those who are more than willing to turn our squandered opportunity into their advantage. The world keeps turning; the Senate cannot afford to forever stand still.
John Kerry’s Senate would never stand still.