DAVID MCKEAN: Good evening, welcome. I'm David McKean, the CEO of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation. And on behalf of the Library and the Library Foundation, I thank you for coming. I'm pleased to acknowledge the underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forums including lead sponsor, Bank of America, represented here tonight by Bob Gallery. Our other sponsors include Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute, the Corcoran Jennison Companies, and the Boston Foundation. Our media sponsors are The Boston Globe, WBUR, and New England Cable News Network.
Senator John Kerry recently said of Paul Kirk, “Shortly after he took the oath of office, I said that Paul was smart, modest, polite, civil, and willing to share the credit.” And then Senator Kerry added, “Despite all of this, I still thought he would be a terrific United States Senator.” We are honored to have here tonight a great public servant. And with the loss of Senator Edward Kennedy in August of last year, there was no individual more suited to carry on his legacy than the man sitting here tonight, Paul Kirk, Senator Kennedy's friend for 40 years.
And if I can take a moment, I also want just to acknowledge that Senator Kennedy's wife, Vicki Kennedy, is here tonight. [applause] Paul Kirk was Senator for only five months.
But when you consider that he served at a time when the President unveiled his plan for fighting a war in Afghanistan, at a time when the Senate passed groundbreaking legislation on healthcare -- we still have a ways to go there -- and at a time when our political structures almost seem to be crumbling, it's hard to imagine that Senator Kirk could have represented the State of Massachusetts at a more critical time in our nation's history.
And tonight, Senator Kirk is going to tell us what it was like to take the oath of office as a United States Senator last September, to follow in the footsteps of his friend and mentor, Ted Kennedy, and to have served in the Senate during this historic period.
Paul Kirk was born in Newton, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard College in 1969, Harvard law school in 1974. In 1968, he worked on Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign and a year later, he joined the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy where he worked for the next eight years. Incidentally, he met his wife, Gail, while working for the Senator and she is also with us here tonight. [applause] After practicing law for several years, Paul Kirk became Chairman of the National Democratic Committee in 1985.
Washington Post columnist, David Broder, wrote at the time, “The Democrats have found themselves a national chairman better than they know, and maybe better than they deserve. If character and ability count for anything in the world of politics, the Democratic Party is in good hands.”
For the last two decades, in addition to an extremely successful law practice and successful business consulting firm, Senator Kirk has continued to provide public leadership. He served for many years as Chairman of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, as co-Chairman for the Commission on Presidential Debates, and as a trustee of Stone Hill College, and most importantly, he served as Chairman of the Board of this Library, where I can tell you he is revered.
Our moderator tonight is Tom Oliphant, former columnist for the Boston Globe. Tom was born in Brooklyn, raised in California and graduated from Harvard College in 1967. He is a student of two of America's favorite pastimes, baseball and politics. He's the author of Praying for Gil Hodges: A Memoir of the 1955 World Series and One Family’s Love of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But actually, I have to tell you, I checked with him just before this to make sure he's a Red Sox fan because he's not allowed up here unless he is, and he assured me that indeed he is. [laughter] Tom is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has covered countless political stories and appears frequently as a television commentator. Like Senator Paul Kirk, he knows Massachusetts and he knows Washington.
They are going to engage in a discussion. I think there were some index cards that were handed out when you came in. If you have questions and would like to write those down, write down your questions. They‟ll be taking questions a little bit later in the program.
And with that, it gives me great pleasure to yield the floor to Senator Paul Kirk and Tom Oliphant. [applause]
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Thank you very much, David, and congratulations to the Board in the selection of a great CEO to succeed John Shattuck. David brings great credentials to this institution, and we wish him all the very best. I'm delighted to be back with distinguished members of the Board of Directors and an outstanding staff that continues to improve and enhance the stature of this great institution.
Standing here in a different capacity than I usually do, it's maybe well just to reflect for a moment, because 50 years ago when Al Becullen (?) and I were seniors in college, the junior Senator from Massachusetts was seeking the presidency of the United States. And in addition to my father's public service, it provided a little more of -- I'll say -- inspiration about the importance of public life and the importance of maybe taking some chapter of your career and devoting it to public service, whether it be community or country, or whatever it turned out to be. So a little over 30 years later, I was so privileged to be selected to be Chairman of the Foundation that supports the Library, which is the nation's monument to President Kennedy. And it was a very serious and important time for me, and I think it was a formative time for this institution as well.
Forty years ago, I joined the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy and perhaps from that time forward enjoyed a bond of friendship and confidence and trust that on its own, without anything else, was a privilege that will always be close to my heart. He was -- and I've said this before -- the most effective and accomplished legislator in the history of this country. And then to be encouraged by Vicki and the other members of his family to consider an appointment to the United States Senate, to a seat that was in the path of history held by John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner, Daniel Webster, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Edward Moore Kennedy, was an honor to which, first of all, I could never say no, but an honor that I never expected would ever -- Enya sings a song, “Who Knows Where the Road Leads” -- an honor that I'll always never quite be able to get over. I called the roll of those who served in this seat. Make no mistake; I have no illusions.
Does everybody know what Trivial Pursuit is? A hundred years from now, I'll be the toughest challenge to the question, “Who was the guy who was the interim appointee to follow the greatest legislator in the history of the country?” Write it down, it's my legacy. [laughter]
More seriously, this was a brief period in the United States Senate. I will say it was emotional, educational, at times contentious. As David has pointed out, sometimes you could look at it as an historic period in our country. And for me, it was a little like being a freshman and a senior all in five months, if you can understand what I'm saying. As a freshman you come in, you don't want to be too precocious and too presumptuous. On the other hand, you don't want to be an empty suit that just passes through. And the other analogy I would use is it's like getting on a bullet train. When you get on the bullet train and all the passengers are all briefed on all the subjects, and you get on and you're going to get off at the next stop. And what difference are you going to make while you're there?
So it has those kinds of challenges: the brevity and yet the seriousness of the time. I had asked to be assigned to the Health Committee. I actually was assigned to Armed Services and to the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. And this was obviously at a time, as David mentioned, the buildup to the decision about what to do in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater in terms of armed services, that was foremost. The Homeland Security issue, while we were there, was Fort Hood, the H1N1 flu, the Christmas bomber. Here at home we had the issues of the LNG tanker coming in from Yemen, and so the Homeland Security was involved in that.
And then just off to the side was this issue called healthcare, and I would say that through Senator Kennedy's wisdom and foresight and understanding of what was happening in the United States Senate in terms of the polarization, number one, and the need for 60 votes, number two, was basically the reason that Massachusetts had the 60th vote when the Senate passed the health bill on Christmas Eve morning. So that's just to hopefully set the table for the grand inquisition that's now to take place with your pal and mine, Tom Oliphant. After that, if we haven't exhausted all the questions or interests or curiosity, I'd be glad to respond to whatever questions you may have.
Let me say before I do, I know David acknowledged Vicki. But throughout this entire period, I think she, once again, showed the courage and the grace and understood that in the last campaign here, you heard a lot about the Kennedy's seat, that Senator Kennedy himself never felt that way, 47 years in the United States Senate. He knew to whom the seat belonged. But I know that Vicki felt that the extension of the values that Senator Kennedy exhibited and inspired us through all this time, that to have her endorsement of this idea is as good as it gets. And to have her take the time to be here tonight, I think, is another signal of the kind of woman she is. And I just want to thank her publicly. [applause]
TOM OLIPHANT: Just a quick word about ground rules. First of all, it's so rare in the last 40 years that this guy has ever been in a public setting where he's expected to spill his guts. Kennedy people …
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Don't hold your breath, Tom.
TOM OLIPHANT: Not a chance. No illusions. Kennedy people have always been famous, really, for one thing. It started with your mentor, Kenny O‟Donnell. They wouldn't tell you if your coat was on fire. So I admit to a certain curiosity at seeing how this distinguished gentleman takes to this setting. After 30 minutes or so, somebody's going to bring me up some cards with questions on them and I'll try to sift through them and by topic keep the thing going. The first thing we have to settle is a matter of protocol. Is it really to be Senator for the rest of your life?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: In my view?
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, what do we call you?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I'll check my wallet and see what it says. You can call me whatever you're comfortable calling me.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, if I talk out of school, Vicki Kennedy was suggesting in the elevator that as time passes you're going to want more and more to be called Senator -- a typically shrewd and probably accurate observation. But it's tough for somebody like me who basically said, “Hey you,” for 40 years.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I would say it takes a little getting used to. There's a gentleman here in the front row who picked me up one day at home. This was very early -- like maybe we were back out for the swearing in and came back. So Sean Malone was picking me up in the morning. “Good morning, Senator.” I looked around.
TOM OLIPHANT: And there it went. Tell us a little bit about the poignant and painful first moments walking into that office. You weren't just replacing any Senator, this was Edward Kennedy. You weren't running any office, you were running one of the most famous legislative and political shops in America. And they had essentially been without their leader for well over a year. Talk a little bit about the unique circumstances you were thrust into?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Okay, so I'll do my best. I can talk about it. Can I get through it?
TOM OLIPHANT: Sure, you can.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: So one of the first things that was important -- for me, at least, having been a former staffer, having enjoyed the bond of friendship that I had with Senator Kennedy, I knew what the staff had gone through and I like to think that at that moment, they knew what I was going through. So both in Boston and in Washington those were two early meaningful, I would say, difficult sessions. And we knew what we were about, we knew the seriousness of the purpose that we were together on. And we also knew that we were doing it in the name of a special friend to extend that term. Those were hard.
Then, in terms of the Senate itself, I had the good fortune, when you talk about the Senate body, to have known a number of the senators so it wasn't like I came into a room of 99 strangers. But I have to tell you, the first day -- and I hope Vicki won't mind me telling this story -- the family was there and we had our little reception beforehand, and Vicki brought me a gift, and it was Robert’s Rules of Orders that Senator Edward Kennedy had in 1962 with his own name written inside the cover, underlining where he thought it was important, little notes in the margins, stars here, and so forth. So it was another form of “this is what it's about.”
The other thing I would say, and this is probably not unique to me -- I think I could sense it in my colleagues. After Senator Kennedy's death, and before my assumption of office, his desk in the United States Senate was draped in black and it had white flowers on it.
And I had just been to -- Gail and I had just been to Arlington Cemetery, came up to the Hill, we had this reception. The first thing I did was look inside the chamber because I knew it was going to be difficult anyway. Thank God the cloth and the flowers were gone. But the truth of it was --and this is something I could feel among his colleagues, and I certainly felt it myself -- it was like a sacred place. Everybody felt his absence, and I really had a difficult time almost dealing with the physical accommodation in his space. And that was one of the toughest days.
There were other days like it. But to give you a sense of the power of his absence, it was not easy. And the fact that, I speak for myself, but the fact that his family was there going through the transition, even though it was their friend, you can imagine.
TOM OLIPHANT: I can. Tell me a little bit about this Senate you joined? A few weeks ago, you gave a very well received -- for a freshman valedictory -- oration in which you decried some of the atmospherics of the modern Senate. I was going to ask you to compare the Senate you encountered 40 years ago right about this time as a young pup, and to maybe compare and contrast the Senate in these two periods of American history so that we can better understand some of the things you had to say a few weeks ago?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Well, there are a lot of differences. The ones that are perhaps obvious to most people here is there's the power of television and the need to raise money for advertising campaigns distracts a lot of the time from the incumbent senators.
So I would argue there's probably too much money in the system. And in addition to that, there's the 24/7 news cycle with the proliferation of sources of electronic medium, and so forth. So you have to make the instant responses. And there's almost an argument that too many senators bring a campaign frame of mind to their daily workplace. So that's sort of the sum of the externals.
The membership of the Senate body as a whole has changed dramatically, I would argue. When I was there 40-some years ago, the two parties had a breadth of political thinking within their membership and caucus. For instance, the Republican Party in those days, if you took the most progressive member -- on the one hand, you might say Jake Javits from New York, and Barry Goldwater from Arizona -- so there was a broad perspective of political thought. In the Democratic Party, there was …
TOM OLIPHANT: Eastland?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Jim Eastland of Mississippi and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. So both parties had a broad profile. And so when you had an issue that came to the floor, more often than not, the conservatives in the Republican Party would ally with the conservatives in the Democratic Party because they had a common kind of ideological view of life, if there were no kind of parochial issues that would change that. Similarly, in the more progressive wing, the Kennedys of the world -- I'll use that as an example -- and Jake Javits would get together and there'd be a collective effort there.
And in both parties there were centrists or moderates who basically would help move the process along.
The point being that there was almost a necessity to work across party lines. And I think, and I would argue, it made for a healthier United States Senate, as opposed to now.
There is diversity of thought in the Democratic caucus without any argument. Though not a Democrat, but a member of the Democratic caucus, independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders on the one hand, maybe Ben Nelson on the other. You go to the Republican caucus -- I would say perhaps with the exception of the two women from Maine -- that the rest of that caucus is basically a single caricature, very much ideologically solidified, and therefore disciplined, and very hard to move from their positions. And you probably saw some of it in the summit, that philosophically there's a difference between the Republican caucus and the Democrats on the issue like healthcare.
But the other thing that plays equally heavily is a matter of politics. And what I could see from the get-go is the Republicans, who in lockstep had made a calculated and deliberate political decision, that if they could stop healthcare from passing, they could effectively start the meltdown of the Obama Administration -- whether it be climate change or financial regulation reform. And so while the philosophical difference provides a rationale, the political motivation is equally compelling, I think.
TOM OLIPHANT: And did you find it always resistant to your naïve freshman impulses to try to bridge differences? Or were there exceptions where you could see this kind of unified party discipline breakdown?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: There were a few exceptions.
TOM OLIPHANT: Instructive or just coincidence?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I think more coincidental and anecdotal than they were in this climate. And, you know, the Class Act might have been one where …
TOM OLIPHANT: Explain.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: The Class Act: a long-term care program not yet enacted, part of the healthcare bill, a major issue that Senator Kennedy had launched. It takes care of long-term care; it is not an entitlement program; it's voluntary; it's self-funded. And people in the workplace who might have disabilities or foresee disabilities as they get to the retirement age, they can start paying into this and they get their return in a cash stipend, maybe 50 to 75 dollars a day, so they can decide what it is they need to stay productive rather than going through some institutional facility.
TOM OLIPHANT: It would actually decrease the deficit over time, right?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes, and was a deficit reduction program over time. So we had our own issues in the Democrat caucus trying to make sure it was kept in, and it has been kept in.
TOM OLIPHANT: But there was an amendment to take it out.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Right.
TOM OLIPHANT: And?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: And it failed.
TOM OLIPHANT: And?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: And the Republicans helped to keep it alive.
TOM OLIPHANT: And that meant that there just wasn't the kind of television glare that brought out the partisanship on the various sides? Or there was something about this issue, or maybe the way you and, say, Chris Dodd worked it, that caused some of these walls to break down?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes. I mean, I think there were some. For instance, the deficit reduction aspect was important. The fact of long-term care for people who want to continue living productive lives, everybody has been through this in one way or another where children are worried about their parents and they're maybe working a couple of jobs and the parent at home and can't take care of him or herself.
TOM OLIPHANT: And you and I are worried about it.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Right. So it's one of these things that every family has seen it. It has a poignancy and a resonance and a necessity. So I think some of those things we're able to be helpful to the Class Act.
TOM OLIPHANT: Could I bring up one distinction now versus 40 years ago? Again using Senator Kennedy as an example, despite the enormous gulf between them, he and Jim Eastland did a fair amount of business over the years. Their relationship, just someone looking at it from the outside, was that it was respectful and usually productive. What accounts for something like that then, and why is it so hard to find now?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I think then, as I say, working across party lines was common, and it was not only common, but it was necessary to be able to pass the kind of legislation that Jim Eastland or Ted Kennedy together could agree on. I think what's happening now, more than anything else, is the ideological discipline and cohesiveness, on the one hand, in the Republican caucus on an issue like national healthcare.
Philosophically, they're not comfortable with it, and politically, for the most part, it's not in their interest to see it pass. And so the ability to hold the Republican caucus together --
I haven't been privy to their caucuses, but I know other colleagues and I myself have commented that the price a member of that caucus would pay within the Republican Party would be …
TOM OLIPHANT: Life or death.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes, it's almost too much to ask. But obviously there have been occasions, but not on this issue.
TOM OLIPHANT: In the middle of the Senate's consideration of the healthcare bill in December, I believe, early December, you made another speech. And again, to an outsider listening on healthcare before the vote -- urging your Democratic colleagues to vote yes -- and to an outsider, it seemed at times as if you were almost channeling
Senator Kennedy's views, to have him have more of a presence in this debate down the stretch so that your Democratic colleagues can understand it. While a liberal had every right to be a little upset about this position, or a centrist could worry about the cost controls, or whatever, that viewed in its entirety it was worth a yes vote.
This week is another one of those weeks. Could you update your speech a little bit? And what is it that your Democratic colleagues, former colleagues, Senator Kennedy's former colleagues, need to understand in your opinion down the stretch here?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Frankly, Tom, I wouldn't update it much. Because the speech contained … It was given on the anniversary of Edward Kennedy's first speech on national health insurance here in Boston. So that was 40 years ago last December and he made his compelling argument for it. And then part of my speech was what's happened since and what hasn't happened, and the fact that we are now the only industrialized nation in the world who hasn't faced up to the fact that healthcare and good health is also related to a stronger economy for reasons of a healthier workforce and businesses being more productive and being able to afford it, which they cannot now. And also the fact that after 40 years of not having enacted it, in my view -- this is true of life for me but it's also true of this issue -- there is no such thing as the status quo. You either move forward or you fall back. And on an issue like healthcare -- and this is why after the House of Representatives had passed the bill, the Senate has passed the bill -- the President of the United States has said it's his number one domestic priority. We are in the red zone, and the last industrial nation to cross the goal line. So my view is now it's a must because we‟ll fall behind. All these costs will continue to go up. The budget will be worse; Medicare will be weakened substantially; you'll have that many more people uninsured. And so just as a matter of necessity -- we can go on a long argument about what are the positive things about the bill -- but if we don't do it now, we're going to be in deep trouble economically, deficit-wise, and the kinds of issues that people are dealing with today, which are that much worse than what Senator Kennedy talked about 40 years ago, it will be a long time again.
TOM OLIPHANT: You know, for those of us who had to cover that speech 40 years ago, one of the things that struck me at that time -- and you lived through it a zillion times over the last 40 years -- is that this revival of the issue, putting national health insurance on the table really for the first time since Truman, was followed within three years by some very intense negotiations with President Nixon's top people, about a very different idea, a hybrid system, which Senator Kennedy eventually came to favor. What accounts -- he must have talked about this a million times over the years -- what accounts for his unusual status as a progressive who could stake out territory that no one else could occupy, and then move as the political occasion seemed to dictate?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Well, a couple of things. One is compelling belief in issues like this. Second was he was blessed with the gift of years in the United States Senate. He had been in the minority and he'd been in the majority, and he knew what it was to be in each. And he, as much as anyone I ever knew in terms of a human being, had a generosity of spirit that made him sensitive to how to help those in the minority, to help you along a little bit. “Here's a bill that you should be on, here's why,” and so forth, and things would go forward. And then over the course of time, his political sensibilities, his sense of pragmatism about what's doable, his generosity of spirit, as I say, to bring others aboard, and then as just a force of intellect and all the rest of it. And then, finally, not to be in any way diminished, so it has to be mentioned, is everybody loved him. I mean, you could be as far away from Edward Kennedy on the political spectrum as you wanted to be, they still love him.
TOM OLIPHANT: Can you think of a significant initiative in the last 40 years that didn't have a Republican co-sponsor?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Of Edward Kennedy‟s? I can‟t. I would be surprised if there was one. The other thing is this is why it's so unfortunate today that there isn't the kind of climate or acceptance of the healthcare bill because, first of all, Senator Edward Kennedy knew it, Barack Obama knows it, I know it, that you take a bill like this, you want bipartisan support. You want to say this is for everyone. This is for Independents, this is for Republicans, this is for Democrats. I mean, it's a healthier way to go. I think having said that, that we‟ll probably hear it before this week expires, that if there isn't going to be some bipartisan cooperation, that this issue is so necessary that the President will do it the way we have to do it, if we can.
TOM OLIPHANT: Maybe asked another way, admittedly this might be a little painful, but have there been moments in the last five months when you thought, “God, I could use him today?” Could you share, maybe, one of those where you can … not that the history of the five months would necessarily have been different, but help us understand what's been missing?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes, I think first of all, folks should understand that at least once a week, each of the parties get together in what they call a caucus. So the Democrats meet at a luncheon on Tuesday or Wednesday. It's not always just policy, but that's usually the final chapter, if you will, of the final subject at lunch. And I can remember -- this is fairly early in my brief tenure -- that one of the senators came up to me and said, “Don't underestimate your influence.” They said, “These guys know who you are. You're not going to be here forever.” So I took that fairly seriously and this is where -- if Edward Kennedy had been in that caucus, obviously there would have been no need for me to be there -- but there was a moment where folks were getting up, and part of it was public option and part of it was other kinds of issues, and people starting to draw their lines in the sand, if you will. I think it was the day after my so-called maiden speech and I figured, “I'm on a roll here, I might as well …
TOM OLIPHANT: Press your luck?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes. So I reflected a little bit on my role as Party Chairman, and so forth. And I basically said to my colleagues -- every one of whom was considerably senior to me -- that I hoped that they wouldn't draw a line in the sand, and particularly lines in the sand publicly because it was that much more difficult for a political figure who said, “This is where I'm going to be and I'm not moving,” to then walk back across the line, and so forth and so on. I gave them a few other examples of my own experience.
And then I took the liberty of invoking Senator Kennedy's name and spoke about not only the importance of the issue, but if he were here, he would be able to, first of all, counsel with each of these folks individually. But he had an ability to call the troops to a higher order, if you will. And I think they understood what was happening. And just the fact that they knew that I was his pal and somewhat an extension of that. But had he been in that caucus, it wouldn't have even been close. On the floor, I think just because of the politics of the day, I can't say anything for certain about the difference except what I said earlier. The fact that he knew that the votes were going to be 60/40, he had a pretty good understanding of how tough the politics were in that.
TOM OLIPHANT: One other arrow in his quiver was that he actually knew these issues in depth and in detail. And one of the things that I've imagined a little bit -- because I can remember it coming up in the early 1970s when he was getting all kinds of guff for negotiating with Nixon about an employer mandate -- that it's almost as if he'd say, “Look, I can show you six different ways that you can get the equivalent of a public option without calling it that or having a section in the bill that says public option.” Another of his phrases was where health, a national health program is concerned, I can do this like a flexible geography teacher, he would say. I can teach it round, I can teach it flat, cost control, universal coverage. There was a mastery of issues that contributed to his ability to influence the politics of issues.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Without question.
TOM OLIPHANT: Missing, on occasion, in this national discussion. Could I ask it in Massachusetts terms, which is going to do a segue so that we can talk a little bit about Massachusetts, which was part of your five months. And by the way, I hope you were all scribbling elegant, eloquent, tough questions to be handed to me in a few minutes. But you know, up here particularly, as this debate was heating up after Christmas, it was said from time to time that all of these good people from Massachusetts really have no interest in national healthcare because they already benefit from the best program in the country.
And, of course, everybody is completely satisfied with this program here in Massachusetts. No one has any criticisms of it. But the idea is why should the good people of Massachusetts, who already have everything, pay for people elsewhere in the country who are the ones who don't have coverage? Can you hit that pitch?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I would say, first of all, the people of Massachusetts -- speaking of generosity of spirit -- the people that I know are not those who close their eyes, their mind or their hearts to the Berkshires or Buzzard's Bay or Provincetown. I think everybody knows that we're all in this together in every facet of it, and that I find the argument that Massachusetts didn't vote for one candidate or another because they had theirs and hell with everybody else, I rejected out of hand and I think most people would. You know, the truth is in some of the southern states, Mississippi and elsewhere, where there are a lot of underprivileged and the rest, there may be only one or two insurance companies that can do what they want. There is no competition. They can monopolize, they can jack the prices up and do whatever. And it's costing people in other states as well, whether we like to admit it or not.
So my answer to that, Tom, is I think it's a phony argument and I don't think most people here would subscribe to the fact that we've got ours. And not that ours is without problems and like everything else, is going to have to be perfected going forward.
TOM OLIPHANT: I mean, for example, there would seem to be Massachusetts questions involved in whether there's insurance market reform, which would include here. I was thinking if you have the kind of expansion of Medicaid eligibility that is envisaged in this program, there are tens of thousands of people in this state, Alzheimer's patients, people in nursing homes more generally, AIDS patients for whom this is almost a life and death issue.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Exactly.
TOM OLIPHANT: So here it is, let's talk some more Massachusetts, particularly since you spent so many years with somebody whose first campaign up here included the boast that “I could do more for Massachusetts.” Cape Cod, where you've been known to go once or twice, President Kennedy did, Senator Kennedy did, this question of preserving this beautiful place while all these people come in has been a recurring theme in politics for 50 years, since the National Seashore was created, really. And there is now an effort involving the water ways. Could you talk a little about what's coming and how safe the program is from budget cuts in the future?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: You're talking about the water restoration project?
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, absolutely?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Okay. Most of the folks know that the Cape is a fragile peninsula with its echo systems and the rest of it. And it's also a great tourist destination, and there's been a lot of development to accommodate that. The result of which is that the fish beds and the herring runs and the water quality, and so forth, need to be refreshed and restored. And one of the issues that Senator Kennedy had obviously been a leader on was this issue of water restoration on Cape Cod. And so when I arrived there, it was in the Agricultural Committee; it was chaired by Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. And so I was able to speak to her about the importance of our, I'll call it water infrastructure, if you will, on Cape Cod. And she very sensitive and receptive to it, and they were able to get that something like $25 million passed out of the Agricultural Committee. And with John Kerry and Bill Delahunt we had a little ceremony on the Cape in, I think it was December, where the first investment of that money was announced. And over the next two or three years, they'll be able to do what's necessary to restore the herring runs and the fish beds and …
TOM OLIPHANT: There's a state contribution here, too, as well?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: There is a state contribution. The federal money was sort of the trigger to make sure that others would follow. But over the course of time, in terms of the sensitivity that I mentioned between the tourism and the actual natural environment, natural habitat there, this'll be an important point.
TOM OLIPHANT: Now, there's another topic that I think is dear to your heart in terms of where you're from out west -- not in America -- but in Massachusetts. And a lot of people don't know this but it's a more sprawling area and the ability of government to concentrate particularly its job training services has been historically circumscribed. And it's another area that you worked on during the five months with the idea of some kind of a skill center. Talk a little bit about what you've tried to do there?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: This came about because, actually, when Tom had asked about Senator Kennedy, and I've mentioned about the Democratic caucus, this was the same occasion. And when I got up to be the precocious freshman in the Democratic caucus, I said, “I'm last in and I'm going to be first out. And so I won't be speaking many times and you don't have to listen if you don't want to, but I just want to impart what I sense is going on here and what I hope will not continue and that we can keep our act together.”
So when the luncheon was over, Senator Inoue of Hawaii, who's now the longest serving Senator in the United States Senate and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, took me aside and he said, “I heard what you said about you're the last in and the first out,” he said, “but you deserve to make your mark here. And I want you to come and see me.” So I had a nice visit with him and he said, “I want you to think about what it is that you'd like to, in five months, what it is you'd like to do for your state, and so forth?” So I did some homework about it and asked some of the folks on the staff to help.
The result of which is, not for this year's budget because this was in the fall and by August most of the budget decisions had been made, but there's an entity called the Massachusetts Extension Partnership, and it's headquartered in Worcester. And with some appropriations next year they'll be able to launch what they call the 21st century skill center. And what it does is identify in small businesses and others that are manufacturers in Massachusetts, skill needs. And they recruit veterans or others that have been under employed, or perhaps have some infirmities, and they bring those folks to the manufacturing site and to the plant and train them for the job with the skills that'll be needed for those jobs. So what it does -- obviously, it puts people to work, it brings the skills that are needed to the company, allows the company to grow and to be competitive and some of these companies are defense suppliers, and others. So it has a good ripple effect in terms of competition overseas and so forth.
But what it was … So you're able to say, “Well, I hope that all comes about,” but what I really felt about it was the understanding and the generosity of the senior -- very senior Senator, whose Chief of Staff, along with Eddie Martin and myself, are good pals and he remembered. And he also remembered whose seat I had been appointed to. So it had kind of what I'd call all the confluence of happiness in a sense, so it worked out well.
TOM OLIPHANT: But western Massachusetts will be the beneficiary?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Well, western Massachusetts is the site, but it services the entire commonwealth.
TOM OLIPHANT: The entire state. Now, dare I ask if this constitutes one of those horrid earmarks that …
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: You could ask.
TOM OLIPHANT: Purists and how can you possibly be in favor of actually designating where money should go?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: You could ask. I'd call it an investment in the Commonwealth. Here's the interesting thing: I must have been involved in ‟70, ‟76, ‟82 … well, five of Senator Kennedy's campaigns. I see Barbara Souliotis out there; she will attest to this. So we'd go around the state and … let's say, North Attleboro. And one of the things that obviously a United States Senator wants to say when he goes to North Attleboro, “This is what I've done for the region,” and so we have to type up all these things, mimeograph machines about, “This is for North Attleboro.” And you'd try to advertise it, get as much credit for it because this is what you're doing for your state. Something's happened in the meantime. Somebody called it something else, and it's sort of a nefarious, negative component. But I think it's a lot of what public servants are asked to do, and should do, so I have no embarrassment whatsoever about that.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you. [laughter] Though I'm not sure how … I mean, do you have a sense of how much the system is going to change now that you've been inside? I mean, you've had a conversation with the chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee that obviously was directly related to what's going to be happening on Cape Cod in the next few years. Clearly, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee had something to say about it. Is this system maybe going to be a little more transparent, but it's still going to continue?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes, it will be more transparent, and that's fine. I don't think anybody has an issue with that. But, you know, if people have problems or questions, the questions will be answered by the transparency and the disclosure and the rest of it. But if you're asking me, do I think members of Congress, House or Senate, will somehow be intimidated from doing what they think they should do for the people they represent, I would say no. And if they are, they're not going to get elected next time.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you for that. By the way, I'm going to aggregate as much as I can, grouping these cards around topics. But I have one more I was going to bring up just because I thought maybe no one … a lot of people may not realize this but the Senator didn't just leave the Senate, he also finished a 22 year-run as co-Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has revolutionized, successfully, the atmosphere in which the general presidential election is held. We now assume every four years. I think this guy has probably been sued by Ralph Nader more than he sued General Motors. But along the way, presidential campaigns have changed fundamentally because of what you and Frank Fahrenkopf did. They're going to step down in a staggered sort of way, I think, and Paul is being replaced by a well respected Democrat and former press secretary to President Clinton, Mike McCurry. Frank Fahrenkopf will probably step aside after another year. Tell us about this experience and what you learned about politics and partisanship from working so closely and so long with a senior Republican?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes, this started as basically almost a civic experiment. There had been years of no debates after John Kennedy's debate with Richard Nixon.
There was no debate until 1976 because there weren't any incumbents interested in debate. And then there was Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter, and then Ronald Reagan. But it was kind of bumpy and unsteady and no predictability. And I think as television and paid advertising became more and more common, there were a number of study groups that said, “This can't be all there is to campaigns. And wouldn't it be great if the two political parties launched a commission to make debates a permanent fixture in the general election?”
So Frank and I were then Party Chairs and we started it. But it wasn't long after we were at work on this that we realized there's a whole independent body politic out there, that there'd be third parties. And if it's just a bipartisan commission, one, it wouldn't survive the politics; two, it wouldn't survive the IRS test, and so forth. So basically when we left our respective Party Chairmanships, we took our political hats off, if you will, and just decided this is a good public service to perform. And so what evolved over time is that each presidential election, there'd been three presidential debates, one vice presidential debate. We started off with a panel of news reporters asking questions, not as effective as it now is. We have a single moderator, try to get as much free flow and extemporaneous give and take between the candidates, even encouraging them to question one another.
And if you think about political campaigns and all the predictable things that happen through paid advertising, and so forth, while these debates are not perfect debates, they are the one window into a kind of unvarnished area where two candidates, or perhaps in some instances, in one instance there were three with Ross Perot, where they're on their feet, they have to deal with each other, ask each other questions, respond. And people get a sense of both their likeability, connectability, their body language, their intellect, their understanding of the issues, their sensitivity, and so forth. So I can make the argument that in a national political election, it's probably the most important voter education forum. And as you said, Tom, in your question, I think it's here to stay. It may evolve and change with the web technology and the rest of it, but …
TOM OLIPHANT: Does anything worry you next cycle, cycle after that? Or do you …
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I think it's just the ability to maximize the technology that's coming on stream. But if you're asking do I think they'll be jeopardized? I don‟t.
TOM OLIPHANT: And so it's now been six cycles?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Six cycles.
TOM OLIPHANT: Six cycles? Wow, okay. Thank you for these, and please don't get mad at me if I miss one or two. But here's a very good example of something that sounds simple -- it didn't occur to me -- and it's really not simple, because it goes to the mindset of somebody in your extremely delicate position five months ago. And it's simply how did you deal with the question of your vote? Were you consciously attempting to think what Senator Kennedy would have done? How did you figure out in your mind how to make decisions about how to cast your vote?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Well, I'd say probably the best example of that -- it's not a vote necessarily, but it was an issue. And that's the whole Afghanistan situation. And I was, as I said, appointed to the Armed Services Committee. And this was prior to President Obama announcing that he was going to put 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. And what happened was when I got there -- this is some of the bumpy part of it -- but half of Senator Kennedy's staff by statute was required to close down his office and that's all they could do. So they were not my staff. And his Health Committee staff had moved to a new Chairman, Senator Harkin. So I had sort of a skeleton crew, if you will. But what I was able to do is get people to respond to my request to be briefed. So I had the military and different aspects and ideas and so forth, and I was able to read and I sort of had to do this on my own.
I mean, this was do your own homework, General McChrystal's report on the suggestion about how to deal with Afghanistan and his counterinsurgency approach to it. And one of the main core theses of the counterinsurgency was if this is going to work, we're going to have to succeed with, by and through the Afghanistan government.
And I questioned it then and I questioned Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry when they came to the Committee. And my problem was that Afghanistan's government is the second most corrupt government in the world. They're dependent on a narcotic economy, and everything's for sale. And I was troubled by the possibility of putting all our cards with President Karzai and suggested -- and I consciously did this before the President made his announcement -- there was another opportunity or option, because Pakistan is where the nuclear heads are; there're many more safe havens of al-Qaeda in Pakistan. And that whole Pakistan/Afghanistan border is where the trouble spot is. So while I made the point and I do think that those who responded to the question understood that in some ways it was a leap of faith, but those were things that you had to do in your own fashion and decide for yourself and make up your own mind whether you're going to make a point about this or not, and whether it's worth making.
And with respect to the healthcare issue, I think there were a number of different issues that you want to be sure you're right and things had not changed. In terms of the ultimate passage of healthcare as a national “Let's get this done,” I was fully conscious that as much as anything that was a reason why I was there. That this was, as I said, 40 years to the year and we were in the red zone and Senator Kennedy was not there.
TOM OLIPHANT: Got you. Now, interestingly, the questioner asked about the importance of Kennedy's thinking as you thought through issues in the context of Afghanistan. Which leads me to an obvious follow-up, and that is in the period since then, how's it gone? Do you feel your skepticism is as justified today as it was then? How do you think things have gone over there? Is the leap of faith still legitimately Obama's?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: The jury's still out for me, I must tell you.
TOM OLIPHANT: Really?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I think our military is doing a fantastic job. Well, let me just finish this thought. The last week or so there's an independent election commission in Afghanistan, and when he acceded to authority, it was after an allegedly fraudulent ballot. Then we were going to have a new election or a runoff and that didn't happen. And his opposition decided not to run, and therefore he was sworn in. So there's a little bit of a cloud over him, in any event. And then when he -- to the, I think, surprise of many -- basically took over in the last week or so what was to have been an independent election commission, I think eyebrows were raised. And so I think it remains to be seen.
But the one thing I was going to say about this whole armed services experience and that war, the one thing that sobers you up immediately -- I was at three funerals in the five months. Two kids -- one from Plymouth and one from North Attleboro -- both wives in their 20s and pregnant, first time, and then the Harold Brown, who was from Bolton, who was one of the seven in Iraq who was blown up. You go to those funerals and understand really powerfully what the sacrifice is and what these families are going through. And then two days after New Year, I was at TD Garden to see 650 guardsman leave their families during the holiday, just after the holiday. And these are volunteers. It's not like National Service and so forth. And a lot of these guys are National Guard kids who had their jobs and expected to do weekend training and two weeks of summer camp and now are on their fourth tour in some godforsaken place half a world away. So that keeps you up at night, too.
TOM OLIPHANT: Indeed. Now, at the time President Obama was considering the question of troop levels, anyway, there was an alternative in your head, not unlike the one that we believe Vice President Biden was thinking about -- namely focusing over the border. Is there still an alternative or is the proper course for the rest of us now the kind of skepticism that you just evinced, but without an alternative?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: In fairness, the Administration would make the argument that you can't really do this without securing as much as you ever can -- Afghanistan -- so that it doesn't become a place where the Taliban take over again and al-Qaeda is much more prevalent than they now are. And it needs an American presence and it needs to be able to train the Afghanistan forces so that they can basically take care of themselves.
And we can comply with what the President has said when we begin to draw down.
In the meantime, it shouldn't be thought that nothing is going on in Pakistan, that there are the drones that he used, and other things, to try to wipe out those safe havens where they can be located. And so that's another absolutely important area of combat. But what you do take away from all this, combined with the Homeland Security assignment, is this is a very dangerous world that we're living in, and we need to be doing what we're doing.
TOM OLIPHANT: I hear you. Here's a good one that picks up on one of the things you did not say in that valedictory address a few weeks ago -- namely, whether the time has come, as it seemed to 30 years ago, to attack the rules of the Senate. And the question is that most democracies function on majority votes. How can we restore democracy to the United States Senate? The Constitution doesn't require 60 percent majorities. The Lenin question, what is to be done?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Right. Well, first of all, if you tried to change the rules as we now know them, a rules change requires not 60 votes, but 67 votes. So that isn't about to happen. But the other hand people are arguing about, well, it's super majority. And what are we going to do about reconciliation? Now, I would argue you should think of it this way: since when do we need 60 votes to do anything in the United States Senate of 100 people? The filibuster was never envisioned to be the core operating principle of the United States Senate. It was a rare exception. I think back in the mid part of the last century, maybe seven percent of the procedures would involve anything relating to filibuster or cloture. Now, in the last few years, it's upwards of 70 percent. And when I was there in five months there was virtually nothing that happened without 60 votes.
Basically, it wants necessarily that on the merits there was a disagreement about that particular issue, it was a way of delaying and delaying on healthcare, because as I said earlier, there was a political calculation. “We can delay it and kill it, that's what our political objective is.”
So then you flip it over to reconciliation, which is something that seems sort of arcane and exceptional, and so forth, because it relates to budgets and deficits, and so forth. But for the life of me, I can't understand why people are making such a big deal about 51 votes in the United States Senate to pass a bill. And the argument I heard -- I didn't see the whole so-called summit -- but the argument I heard, “Well, this bill is so large.” So large that a majority doesn't count? I didn't hear the end of it. So I think we can get kind of confused and bewildered, but my point is do not think that 60/40 is the norm, or nor that it should be in the Senate of the United States.
TOM OLIPHANT: How is one to act so that 60/40 doesn't become the norm? In other words, you've figured out much more difficult political conundrums than this one. If what you say is what should be, how does one make sure that …
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Well, in midstream, one of the things that could have been done, I suppose, if folks were willing to go along with it, is to call their bluff.
TOM OLIPHANT: The nuclear option?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: No, or let's say you want a filibuster? Sure. I mean, here's what happened just before Christmas, like two or three days before Christmas. The Department of Defense Appropriations bill. Now, anyone would say, “You mean you're talking about funding our kids in Afghanistan?” And in a lot of the places where the defense weapons and the rest of it are, you know, some of the southern states where some of the Republican senators were saying, “You know, this is my bread and butter.” I mean, one way to sort of see what's really going on is to say, “Okay, you want a filibuster? Here we are Thursday before Christmas holiday. We're talking about defense. Argue on C-SPAN to the nation why this shouldn't go forward.” So it got to that point.
So that's one way to say, “Okay, you want to invoke? Go ahead and filibuster and let the string run out.” My bet would be that they'd call it off, and basically it would show that what really was meant, the intent, was to delay. Going forward, the next Congress can figure out what its rules will be and given the makeup of the Congress, whatever it may be at that time, the parties will work out what they feel is the most advantageous.
TOM OLIPHANT: But you would argue that the Majority leader needs to signal that there's a limit to this, yes?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes.
TOM OLIPHANT: And here's what the limit is, and here's what we do if this continues?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes. I mean, I think at this point in time if I were Harry Reid, I would be saying to the degree any of these bills legitimately relate to budget issues, be prepared for reconciliation as we go forward. Otherwise, you just are at a standstill. And one of the things that I think people are absolutely frustrated by is what appears to be a dysfunctional Congress of the United States and the United States Senate. [applause] And I've said this in my last speech that when people are worried about job security, tuition security, home security, retirement security, all the things that every family is concerned about, the last thing they need is the people who are supposed to be doing something about those issues is doing this political game.
TOM OLIPHANT: Now, do your fellow Democrats need to understand that this goes both ways? That given the fact that the pendulum is always moving in political life, there will probably come a time, maybe sooner than later, it may involve a President's judges, as it did earlier in this decade, and that filibustering is a normal legislative tactic, has to evoke an equal opposite reaction.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Right. In fact, the filibusters were used in the prior sessions of Congress more recently before the Democrats took the majority. But I think realistically, Tom, we have to get back to the point where filibusters are not treated as the routine. And that, as you imply, is up to the leadership to say, “We've had enough of this.”
TOM OLIPHANT: Indeed, thank you. Now, this is what I what I hate about this job, the clock. They said two more. Can we make it three, Senator? It's the closest thing to rebellion I can do. [laughter] There are a lot of questions seeking your assessment after some up close experience of President Obama as a working president. Weak guy, tough guy, clear guy, interesting guy? What's he like to work with, and have you formed any judgments? Do you have any critical ones?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: He came to two of the caucuses and then the Senate held a full day kind of issue retreat that he attended. So a lot of the things that you would see on television and so forth are what you get with Barack Obama. He's devoted to public service, without any question, devoted to the country. An excellent communicator.
Policy-wise understands the granular of the -- and the consequences -- of the issues that he's advocating. A superb and keen listener, and I mean he hears and he absorbs not just … you can tell that he's thinking through what the comments are and grappling with them and absorbing them and trying to improve his own understanding of some of these issues. In each of these instances, he spoke and you had the feeling that he just hit this ball over the Coke bottles, over the …
TOM OLIPHANT: The Chevron sign. [laughter]
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I mean, just hit all the sweet spots and the resonance and so forth. This isn't a criticism, but there was one caucus where he spoke, and this was on healthcare, principally. And he appealed to the United States Senators in his party basically to not hold onto every last thing that you think is so good for -- name the state -- that remember why you're here. Think about the nation, think about the people. And he got these guys kind of going. Because you can get into these situations where it's all kind of internal and for the President of the United States to come up, even talking to his former colleagues, there's a sort of special standing that goes with the office, and he holds it very well.
So after this particular session where he had, I'm going to say, the entire caucus was there, so there were 60 of us. That was at a moment where there were maybe six senators who were still in the balance and not quite with the program. And I didn't have a chance to suggest it to him, but that was a moment that I thought to myself, “If he has the time, he should go to Harry Reid, the leader, and say, „I want to spend some time with these six senators.‟” Because he had sort of set the warm-up and the rest of the folks who were pretty well there were worried about how are we going to get these other six aboard? And that was one of those times you could just say, “If he'd seize the moment.” But I would say leadership-wise, I have no quarrel. First of all because …
TOM OLIPHANT: But not seizing a moment? I mean, you're a cautious person, but nonetheless a person of action. And if you got a whiff of indecisiveness, I'd perk up. And you're saying no?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: No, I didn't think it was indecisiveness. What I meant to say is an opportunity that had he had the time -- and maybe he didn't -- I thought that was when you get these guys here.
TOM OLIPHANT: Okay, so maybe a quicker trigger?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes. And the only other thing about it, Tom, is worth repeating, is that what he inherited and had to do in terms of the meltdown on Wall Street, the automobile issue, the stimulus package, all of these things were enormously jolting to the country and to our economics. And then he has an ambitious agenda as well. So, I mean, it's a tall order for him and I think he's doing a great job, and I wish him well.
TOM OLIPHANT: Okay, here we go. There was apparently an election up here a month or so ago and several questions have focused on the new Senator. And in particular, what your first observations are? And now that you are a veteran incumbent, former Senator, what the best advice you can give this Freshman is? First of all, did you think the election was a discreet event or part of a larger trend?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: It was both. By that I mean there was a lot of unrest here in the state as there exists elsewhere, and a lot of anger, anxiety. And I'd say this about him: he's a likable personality, the ability to connect during the campaign in his own way. He was a long shot and anti-establishment. And he caught all of that wave. And on the other hand, I think his opposition was perhaps expecting that this is automatic and, therefore, the dynamics of the two campaigns showed both. What does an underdog do, what is a “I have no shot, but I'm going to work my butt off,” and the other candidate … Well, you know the numbers. It was like two months out, Martha Coakley was 30 points up, Christmas, she was still 25 points up, and then he got some momentum with the ads and this thing took off. So that's the discreet.
The other side of it is, as we talked earlier, is this anxiety and also the fact that things aren't working the way they should be. And I think people sent a message. My advice to him is what I said to him when I saw him: one, when you think about those who sat in this seat before, be humble. Be humble, number one. Secondly, hard work is what the Massachusetts people expect from this seat. There was no one who worked harder than Senator Kennedy in the Senate in 40 years. And Massachusetts is used to that. And if you want to do well, you're going to have to do the same. And then basically, be yourself, like anyone else.
TOM OLIPHANT: So, therefore, I can ask you one more, after which I have a little housekeeping duty to perform, if you'll bear with me. But this one stopped me cold. What do you miss …
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Time out. [laughter]
TOM OLIPHANT: Just concise and profound. What do you miss most about being with Senator Kennedy?
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: I think what I miss most of all is his … not as a public figure, but as a human being. I miss his heart. Not only his heart for those he cared about, which was everyone, but how he loved life. He made the most of every gift he had in terms of his public service and how hard he worked at that. His ability to paint, to enjoy music, to tell stories, to love a story.
TOM OLIPHANT: Songs.
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Yes. And, you know, I defy any person to tell me that they left his presence and didn't feel as good as when they first saw him. I mean, because you left -- no matter what was going on in his life or yours -- you always left feeling more positive. So, you know, that kind of question you could take two hours to answer.
TOM OLIPHANT: Boy, that'd be a first for you. [laughter] I hate having to do this, but you could do me one final favor and that's to please join me in thanking Paul Kirk for 40 years of exemplary public service. [applause]
SENATOR PAUL KIRK: Thank you. If the mic's still on, I got to tell you, at least the last five months, without the most outstanding Senate wife, this would have been a disaster. [applause]