John Kerry (D-Mass.) said farewell to the Senate after 28 years yesterday in a way that only Kerry could: with a 7,457-word floor speech.
Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz, was in the gallery for the 52-minute occasion, as the 2004 presidential loser reminisced about being elected to the Senate five times and peppered his remarks with vintage Kerry quips.
“Yesterday, nearly three decades after the people of Massachusetts first voted me into this office, the people I worked with in the Senate voted me out of it,” he said. “As always, I accept the Senate’s sound judgment!”
“Eight years ago, I admit that I had a very different plan, slightly different anyway, to leave the Senate, but 61 million Americans voted that they wanted me to stay here with you. And so staying here – I learned about humility, and I learned that sometimes the greatest lesson comes not from victory, but from just dusting off a defeat and starting over when you get knocked down.”
He thanked his 561 staff members and 1,393 interns over the years, and a couple of senior citizens who opened his mail — unpaid — at a district office for more than a decade. He thanked subway operators, Capitol Police, cloakroom attendants, and Politico reporter David Rogers (formerly of the Boston Globe), who has covered Congress longer than Kerry was a senator.
“Sometimes a farewell speech signals a complete departure from public life, sometimes a new journey altogether. Sometimes a forced departure. Sometimes a leap for freedom,” Kerry waxed. “I’m grateful that at this moment, thanks to my colleagues, serendipity and the trust of our President, while I’m closing a chapter, it’s not the final one. But I assure you, amid the excitement and the possibility, I do feel a wistfulness about leaving the United States Senate. And that’s because, despite the obvious frustrations of recent days and years, a frustration we all share — this place remains one of the most extraordinary institutions of any kind on the face of the earth.”
He said coming to the Senate gave him “the privilege of learning what really makes our nation tick.”
“What a gift to have been the nominee of my party, to have come within a whisper of winning the Presidency against a wartime incumbent, but more importantly, to have experienced the magic of our nation in such personal ways,” Kerry said.
The bulk of his speech meandered from sights he’s seen around the country to historical meanderings to reflections on other senators, and included dropping phrases such as “cacophonous cauldron.”
“Many have stood here, delivering farewell speeches and lamented what became of the Washington where President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill could cultivate an affiliation stronger than party, or a Congress that saw true friendships between Senators like Kennedy and Hatch, Inouye and Stevens, Obama and Coburn—the odd couples as they have been dubbed,” Kerry said, with an obvious hint at the farewell speech of his friend Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) at the end of the 112th Congress. “I can’t tell you why, but I think it’s possible this moment may see a turn in the spirit of the Senate. There are new whispers of desire for progress, rumors of new coalitions, and sense of possibility whether it is on energy or immigration.”
“…My friends, the persistent shouting match of the perpetual campaign, one that takes place in parallel universes thanks to our polarized, self-selecting media, makes it harder and harder to build consensus among people. The people don’t know what to believe. So in many ways it encourages an oversimplification of problems that too often retreat to slogans, not ideas for real solutions.”
As the longtime senator heads to the State Department, the best advice came via Twitter from Reuters campaign correspondent Sam Youngman: “You’ve been warned, Foggy Bottom. Use the bathroom before Secretary Kerry begins his welcome remarks.”
Since the full video of Kerry’s farewell is just too much, here’s the part where he cries.