Thursday, January 31, 2013

John Kerry, Senator

The Washington Post has a nice piece reporting on John Kerry's farewell speech to the Senate. The whole text can be seen on pages S383-89 of the Congressional Record.

I was struck by how much an institutionalist Kerry was. He defended the Senate while criticizing some of its members behaviors. He didn't support ending the filibuster but instead urged more effort to listen to others when they did speak. He lamented the loss of comity and the corrosive influence of the money chase to fund campaigns.

Some excerpts:

Frankly, the problems we live
through today come from individual
choices of Senators themselves, not the
rules. When an individual Senator or a
colluding caucus determines that the
comity essential to an institution such
as the Senate is a barrier to individual
ambition or party ambition, the country
loses. Those are the moments in
which the Senate fulfills, not its responsibility
to the people but its reputation as a sanctuary of gridlock.

So what effort do we need to put into
our reason and spirit in order to do it?
I believe there are three most significant
challenges that have conspired to
bring about a dangerous but reversible
erosion in the quality of our democracy:
the decline of comity, the deluge
of money, and the disregard for facts.
First, I have witnessed what we all
have, a loss of simple comity, the respect
that we owe one another, and the
sense of common cause that brings all
of us here. The Senate as a body can
change its rules to make itself more efficient,
sure. But only Senators, one by
one in their own hearts, can change the
approach to legislating which Henry
Clay correctly defined as the art of

Our time here is not
meant to last forever. If we use the
time to posture politically in Washington,
we weaken our position across
the world. If democracy deadlocks
here, we raise doubts about democracy
everywhere. If we do not in our deeds
prove our own ideals, we undermine
our security and the sacred mission as
the best hope of Earth. But if we do our
jobs right, if we treat our colleagues
with respect and build the relationships
required to form consensus and
find the courage to follow through on our
promises of compromise, the work we do here will long endure.

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