Dan Quayle - 44th Vice President of the United States, 1989 - 1993


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Address By Vice President Dan Quayle
The Leader's Lecture Series September 19, 2000

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But to sum up the change in the vice presidency, in mid-century, the Vice President worked here in the Capitol and occasionally rode down to the White House. By the mid-l 970s, he worked in the White House and occasionally rode down to the Capitol.

That change reflected far more important chang~s in the functioning of the American government, as the pressures ofthe modem state - not to mention the constant dangers of the Cold War - forced the integration of the vice presidency into the daily operations of the Executive Branch. Today it is unthinkable that any Vice President - any President of the Senate - should be as distant, either physically or operationally distant, from the Oval Office as most Vice Presidents were until a half century ago.

Would the Framers of the Constitution approve of this change? I think so, for even in their lifetime it became clear that their original concept of the vice presidency, as the consolation prize for the runner-up in the presidential balloting, just didn't work. Remember, it took more than a half-century to settle the question of succession: that the president of the Senate really does become president of the nation, not just a caretaker, when the presidency becomes vacant. That aspect of the job wasn't pinned down until John Tyler - "His Accidency," they called himfollowed the deceased William Henry Harrison into the White House.

Changing circumstances have left their mark on the Senate as well. I leave it to you to debate whether the era of big government is over. What matters is that the Senate, by helping to create big government over a period of many decades, has had to adapt to the big government it created. You might say, once you raise an 800 pound gorilla, you still have to feed it, clean up after it, and be careful so it doesn't crush you.

The same holds true for an 800 pound - or $1.76 trillion - Executive Branch of government. Once you've created it, you'v~ got to keep feeding it, clean up its multiple mistakes, and make sure it doesn't reverse roles and become the master of the situation.

That, I believe, is the situation facing the Senate today, a situation that has already significantly changed this body, and a situation which has the potential to fundamentally change what this Senate can do, and what this Senate is, in the years ahead.

Just as an aside, since Harry Truman held the office, it's been a tradition that Vice Presidents engrave their names in the vice presidential desk. I assume Al Gore has done that too. Hubert Humphrey was the exception. He didn't sign the desk because Lyndon Johnson had gotten so used to it, he took it with him to the presidency. And so, Humphrey's name is not there with the rest of us.

One who came that close was Walter Mondale, who swore me in as a Senator in 1981. He was a lame duck Vice President at that time. I will never forget the remarks he made to me after he swore me in. He looked over and said, "You know, being in the Senate, those were the best years of my life." I was taken aback at the time and didn't really appreciate what he was saying until I followed in his footsteps, going from the Senate to the vice presidency.

Clearly, working in the White House has a sense of drama. There seems to be a crisis every single moment, certainly every hour. Howard Baker well knows the differences between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. In the former, you are always involved in discussions and decisions on national and international challenges facing the nation. But when you are Vice President, it is impressed upon you that you are Number Two, not Number One. And if you forget that, the President's staffwill remind you. That is a major difference between being Vice President and being a Senator.

When you are a Senator, you are your own person. You have real autonomy.

You make individual decisions. It is not a team consensus. You are, in a way, an independent conscience in this institution. The best word to describe a Senator is: free. He or she is free to stand up and debate, free to speak his or her own mind, free to act according to his or her best judgment. A Senator can be free in a way no modern Vice President can ever think of being. That is a significant difference.

Like any former Senator - I said this, with Senator Lott and Senator Daschle, to the press before we came in - the longer you are away from this institution, the more love and respect you have for it. Remember the old adage: The grass always looks greener on the other side" - until you get there. That's not to say that Marilyn and I aren't enjoying our life in the private sector, fully engaged in other things. But the Senate years, as you think back, were some of the best years. Walter Mondale had it right: These are the years you will cherish most. And just put this in the bank: When you leave the Senate, you will miss it.

Where else can one person, if determined, have the power to so influence public policy? There is no other legislative body in the world like the U. S. Senate.

And I hope, Senators, that this never changes.

When I first ran for Congress in 1976 - I was old, Trent, I was 29 - I never really thought much about what the Congress would be like at the end of the twentieth century. We took for granted the stability and permanence of our political institutions. Today, however, at the beginning of this new century, I do wonder what the Senate will be like a quarter-century from now.

The Senate takes pride in its role as the anchor of government, holding fast and steady, guarding against abuses of power, keeping a wary oversight eye on the reach of the Executive Branch. And so the Senate remains, but perhaps not as much as in years gone by. Would the Senate of, say, thirty years ago have allowed a president, any president, to issue and enforce executive orders with the scope of those of recent years? i The Senate is proud to be a deliberative body, unique in all the world. But today there is just too much to deliberate about, as the Congress tries to fill the role of a national school board, a national police department, a national economic referee - not to mention micromanaging the medical care of some 280 million Americans.

Any institution as overextended as is today's Congress has little time for true deliberation.

The Senate is also proud of the personal side of Senate life. Senator Daschle mentioned the bipartisan effort I made on the Job Training Partnership Act, when I asked Senator Kennedy to join me in passing that legislation. I think, Senator Kennedy, if you and I agreed on a bill, there wasn't much room for dissent. I gave; he gave; the House gave. The bill went through in 1982, and most of it is still intact today.

I believe you would concur that the Senate's best debates - the ones that truly get the Senate going and are educational for the American people - are bipartisan debates, in which the two sides do not divide along strict party lines. Yes, from time to time you have to have partisan fights, but as I said, the Leaders have to work together to get things done and make the legislative machine work.

It's been said by some pundits - and I hear it often from Members ofthe House and Senate - that the Congress today has become a community of strangers.

There is so much to do, so many things going on legislatively and otherwise, so many demands for fundraising, so many demands from constituents, particularly with e-mail and all sorts of instant communication, that Members do not have time for the real business at hand. Nor do they have time to get to know one another. That's why I congratulate Senator Lott for coming up with this Leader's Lecture Series, and Senator Daschle for joining with him in it, to take a moment to think about where this institution is going.

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