U.S. Senate

Alexander delivers farewell speech to Senate

Retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) has delivered his farewell speech in the Senate, drawing an emotional response from colleagues.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to gum up the works of a body of one hundred that operates mainly by unanimous consent,” Alexander said. “Here’s my view: It’s hard to get here, hard to stay here, and while you’re here, you ought to try to accomplish something good for the country.

“But it’s hard to accomplish something if you don’t vote on amendments,” he said. “Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.”

Here are Alexander’s remarks, as prepared for delivery to the Senate on Wednesday.

On March 9, 1967, the newly elected United States Senator from Tennessee, Howard Baker, Jr., delivered his maiden address, his first speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke too long.  Afterwards, Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader who was also Baker’s father-in-law, walked over to congratulate him and offer this advice: “Howard,” Sen. Dirksen said. “You might occasionally enjoy the luxury of an unexpressed thought.”  Still good advice for my farewell address.  

As Sen. Baker’s legislative assistant I was his speechwriter for that maiden address 53 years ago—or at least I thought I was. The problem was, he almost never said in his speeches what I had written.  I asked him if something was wrong with our relationship.  He said, “Lamar, we have a perfect relationship. You write what you want to write and I’ll say what I want to say.”    

I’ve learned a couple of other lessons about making speeches.

One was from the author of Roots, Alex Haley, who once heard me speak and afterwards took me aside and suggested politely:  “If, when you begin a speech, you would start by saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’, someone might actually listen to what you have to say.”

The other lesson came from the journalist David Broder, who gave this advice to Ruth Marcus about her new Washington Post column: one idea per column.

Continue reading