The day following the unveiling of the statue of former Vice President and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey on the grounds of the State Capitol, Walter Mondale called and spoke glowingly of the Humphrey event referring to it as a “golden moment”. How true.
It was a very special occasion. The Humphrey family radiated joy and gratitude so reminiscent of the Vice President. All the speakers were upbeat, brief and focused and all cited the extraordinary courage and determination that dominated Humphrey’s life.
But, in a larger sense, I believe there was a considerable amount of nostalgia for the days when political leaders actually led and knew how to get things done. Several speakers including President Clinton mentioned the union formed between Humphrey and Senator Dirksen, the Senate Republican leader. Together, they gained Senate passage of the historic civil rights act of 1964. Certainly, Dirksen was fully aware of the powerful feelings his conservative colleagues had towards states’ rights and their considerable concerns relative to federal intrusion into the area of voting rights which traditionally were in the purview of the states. Yet, somehow Humphrey persuaded Dirksen that human rights guaranteed by the constitution had to be enforced fully by the national government.
Both men came together and made Senate passage a reality. They fully understood that in challenging times great leaders must put aside smaller differences in order to properly govern.
That partnership and the courage it represented was truly the glue that attracted so many former Humphrey staffers and supporters including civil rights activists and lovers of history. But it also brought out current and former members of Congress, the legislature, and the courts as well as former and current occupants of the “Humphrey” seat; Republicans Rudy Boschwitz, Norm Coleman, and Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
As President Clinton spoke in his compelling fashion about the historic civil rights partnership, I thought back to the unlikely teaming of President Clinton with Speaker Gingrich to bring about a balanced budget and welfare reform. That was leadership. Prayerfully, this magnificent past will compel our leaders of today to reach the same heights of excellence in public service.
But, again, it was Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota who made this a truly “golden moment.”
My comments at the unveiling of the Humphrey statue on August 4, 2012:
As a young man working on the Humphrey campaign staff, we always referred to him as “The Senator”. There was no other name – just “The Senator” – because he personified the title.
Titles do not create leaders. Rather leaders give definition to titles and that is why Hubert H. Humphrey will always be “The Senator”.
And he has left to us a legacy and a challenge: public service meant serving the public good. It was not about personal gain or poll numbers. No, he understood the great issues of the day and he vigorously participated and led.
In “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, actor Jimmy Stewart, fighting desperately for his cause, acknowledged that maybe it was a lost cause but then declared that they were the ones worth fighting for.
When “The Senator” fought for civil rights, it was a lost cause. But, he clearly understood that this cause was worth fighting for. And, ultimately, America agreed and we all stand taller for it.
Today, amidst a dysfunctional political system, a system where compromise is under attack and disagreement is all too often treated as disloyalty, the Senator would likely summon his full passion and energy to advance his core beliefs of reason, good will and opportunity for all.
He saw America as it could be and brought out the best in all of us.
Today, we dedicate a statue in his honor. But, in a broader sense, we dedicate ourselves to his belief in public service and his courageous commitment to it.
Thank you Senator.
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