tv U.S. Senate Sen. Jeff Flake Farewell Speech CSPAN December 29, 2018 12:22am-12:43am EST
for compassion. thank you very much. i yield the floor. mr. flake: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. flake: mr. president, i would like to begin today by noting that had the people of arizona and america been truly lucky, my mother or father would have served in the united states house of representatives and then in the senate. everything i know about what matters most in life i learned first at their dinner table, but for many reasons they were otherwise preoccupied raising and feeding 11 children, working the land, running cattle to keep the f-bar business going. serving their church and
community daily. and in too many other ways to count, my parents were too meaningfully occupied in life to detour to something that can be so frivolous as politics. so you got their son instead. and i rise today to say that it has been the honor of my life to represent my home, arizona, in the united states senate and before that in the house of representatives. that is, it has been my honor in life after being deemed a son, cheryl's husband, and ryan, alexis, austin, tanner and dallin's father. through 18 years in washington, our kids grew up thinking it was normal to have their faces plastered on campaign signs along the roadside whenever campaigns roll along. they were dragged to countless fund-raisers and campaign events. they were used to having their dad join them, sort of, with a
choreographed wave on c-span at dinner time. they spent summers in washington catching fire flies and voting with their dad on the house floor. they served as interns and congressional pages. much of it they enjoyed. some of it they endured. but through all of it, they were not just good sports but were extraordinarily understanding and supportive. and cheryl, while cheryl is a rock upon which our family is built, her strength, ec nimty, endless patience and love, her good humor, even when congressional life was not always funny, and her belief when disbelief would have been perfectly reasonable, these are but a few of the long list of things that leave me simply awestruck by my wife. i think all of us who presume to hold these positions owe someone
would loves us a debt that we can never ever repay. that if they could not be repaid, they can at least be properly recognized. cheryl, that girl i met on a beach so long ago, our wonderful children, my brothers, my sisters, my extended family. john mccain often joked that the only way i ever got elected to anything was because of my hundreds of siblings and thousands of cousins. well, the truth hurts, i reckon. senator mccain just may have been on to something there. it was my honor to serve with him as it has been my honor to serve with senator kyl. today i'm filled with gratitude, gratitude for the privilege of loving and being loved by those people i mentioned and of serving the state and the country that i love so well.
grateful beyond measure and luckier than i deserve to be. so i leave here grateful and optimistic. i will always treasure the friendships that began here and the kindnesses shown to me and my family by all of you, my colleagues. and i'll forever cherish the work of our country that we were able to do together. from the bottom of my heart i thank you all. as i stand here today, i am optimistic about the future, but my optimism is due more to the country that my parents gave to me than is due to the present condition of our civic life. we are, of course, testing the institution of american liberty in ways that none of us ever imagined we would. and in ways that we probably never should again. my colleagues to say that our politics is not healthy is somewhat of an understatement. i believe that we all know well that this is not a normal time
and that the threats to our democracy from within and without are real and none of us can say with confidence how the situation that we now find ourselves in will turn out. over the past two years i've spoken a great deal on the subject from this chamber. there will be time enough later to return to it in other settings. but in the time i have here today, and with your indulgence, i would instead like to speak somewhat more personally. as the authoritarian impulse reasserts itself globally and global commitment to democracy seems now to be on somewhat shaky ground, i've been thinking a lot about recently about the american commitment to democracy, where it comes from, and how if the circumstances were right it might slip away. this got me thinking about when i was a much younger man, when i
had the privilege of witnessing the birth of a new democracy in africa. when i was about half the age i am now and for my church mission, i went to south africa and zimbabwe. i fell in love with the people in these countries. when cheryl and i were drawn back to southern africa a few years later for a job, we were in nubia in february of 1990 when at the very moment that much of the world enslaved by totally ayerism -- toe tall their yarnism was thown off by its snackles and the free world that the united states has led since world war ii was growing exponentially, the soviet union was in a glorious free fall shedding republic seemingly by the day. and eastern europe was squinting out into the light of liberation for the first time in 40 years. free markets and free minds were sweeping the world. freedom was breaking out in the
southern hemisphere as well. the country where i was sitting just that very morning was itself only days old. in november of 1989, the same week the berlin wall came down, nubia had held its first election as an independent nation freed from the apartheid administration of south africa. this had come to pass in no small part because of leadership from the united states through the united nations. just days earlier, an awe-inspiring document had been drafted only a few blocks away from where i sat in vintook and the inspiration had been the marvel of free people everywhere and those who aspire to be free, the united states constitution. at that time i was in africa working for the foundation for democracy trying to ensure that nubia emerged from the process of gaining its independence as a democratic country.
in my role at that foundation, i eadvantage liesed -- eadvantage liesed for democracy and democratic values, the benefits of which had been a given for me for my entire life. i can safe live say, though, that i learned more about democracy from the lives of those around me who aspired to it thank those who experienced it as a birthright. as i sat there in a brand new african democracy, i read the speech that the playwright and new president of the newly democratic czec czech had just delivered before a joint session of the united states congress just across the way here in the house chamber. havel who had spent much of the previous decade in a communist dungeon and whose last arrest as a dissident had been a mere months before was quite astonished to find himself president of anything, much less the country of his oppressors.
i sat there in africa and read halvele's speech, an acomian to democracy, a love letter to america, literary and inspiring, i was overcome by his words. there's nothing quite like the sensation of having someone who has been stripped of everything but his dignity reflecting the ideals of your own country back at you. in such a way that you see them more clearly than ever before, maybe for the first time. in some ways that man knows your country better than you know it yourself. i can only imagine how surreal it must have felt for havel as he stood before the entire congress, the president, his cabinet, diplomatic corps, joint chiefs of staff assembled before him in the house chamber of our capitol building with the vice president and speaker of the house behind him all standing in
a sustained ovation, a deep respect from the oldest democracy in the world to the newest whose leader had been a political prisoner just a season earlier. havel soberly poured out his gratitude to the united states for the sacrifice that our country had made in liberating europe once again and for the moral example of its leadership around the globe in opposing the soviet union, the country he said that rightly gave people nightmares. havel's odd appreciation for the values that too many of us might take for granted brought home to me an american in my mid-20's sitting there in africa the power of the american example to the whole world. and the humbling responsibilities that come with that power. it is no exaggeration to say that havel's position before congress that day in 1990 was a turning point in my civic
education. havel similarly called out to the whole world from washington on that day in 1990 with grace and without rancor but for one mistaken prophecy that to me now reads as tragic. especially in the context of the here and now. at the time as the wall fell and the soviet block that had been encased, it was vogue among some historians, scholars and others to declare the end of history that the big questions had been settled, that liberal democracy was triumphant and that the decline of the ims pulse to enshave whole countries was also inexorable. freedom had one and forever. the historian frances fukiama was much in demand and it was likely that havel would have
been inspired by the fervor, which might explain this passage from his speech. he said, i often hear the question, how can the united states of america help us today? my reply is as paradoxical as my whole life has been -- you can help us most of all of if you help the soviet union on its irreversible and immensely complicated road to democracy. of course, history was not over. the road to democracy is not irreversible -- not in moscow, not in america, not anywhere. after erecting the potemkim village for democracy, the russians thrust forward a strongman amid the chaos, a strongman who was determined to reassemble the petes of a broken empire, in the process strangling russian democracy in its cradle. vladimir putin would go on to be president, and he is president still. and just as he hijacked democracy in his own country, he
is determined to do so everywhere. denial of this reality will not make it any less real. this is something that is staring us in the face right now as we are gathered here today. as we in america during this moment of political dysfunction and upheaval contemplate the hard-won conventions and norms of democracy, we must continually remind ourselves that none of this is permanent, that it must be fought for continually. civilization and the victories of freedom, history it is, are not a matter of once achieved, always safe. vaclav havel lived this. the lovers of democracy i met in namibia lived this. our children, whose rights and prerogatives have never been in doubt, are for the most part unaware of it. but we are being powerfully reminded just how delicate all
of it is right now. the stability of tested alliances, the steadiness of comportment and the words and deeds sum up the best of post-war american consensus on foreign policy. it might seem that all of this has lately been tossed around like pieces on a board, but it's important to remember that we have seen such tumult before, and it is the genius of the architects of our liberty that we can withstand it and emerge the stronger for it. what struck me in namibia that day with such force and has stayed with me ever since is how vital a beacon the united states is and has always been to the peoples of the world. both to those already free and those who still suffer in tyranny. mr. president, it is a solemn obligation that we have as americans. let us recognize from this place here today that the shadow of
tyranny is once again enveloping parts of the globe, and let us recognize as authoritarianism reasserts itself in country after country that we are by no means immune. i stand here today recognizing that i have had the good fortune during my time in the senate to have been surrounded by supremely smart and dedicated staff, some of whom have worked for me for my entire 18 years in washington. my chiefs of staff, chief and margaret, chandler and rolan have ably supervised the team that included people over the years years people like chris, sarah, emily nelson, brian canfield, blake tahn, flaka hismali, melanie linehart, brian
kennedy, katie jackson, james lane, andrea jones, gary bernett and so many others who drafted legislation that has been signed into law. my schedulers, office manager, and press shop have been asked to explain a lot over the years, including my penchant for marooning myself on deserted islands, sometimes with people like martin heinrich, or forced to explain why i have been force chased by elephants with people like chris coons. people like caroline ceeli and megan runrun, michael chris chrisphily, jacob and jason samuals, liz jones, dan mintz, jonathan felts, elizabeth berry
and many more. they have kept me largely out of over-, if not -- out of controversy, if not out of elevators during my entire time in office. dedicated caseworkers have helped nevadans with many issues. i am frequently storks as i'm sure many of my colleagues are, in airports, grocery stores, and thanked for the good work done by my staff. thank you to buchanan davis, julie katzell, bob brewbaker, chelsea lett, and so many others for such dedicated constituent work over the years. to all who have served in my office, i will miss your wise counsel but most of all your friendship. thank you. i will also -- i would also like to say a word of thanks to the institutional officers that
serve the senate so ably. the clerks, the parliamentarians, the floor staff, the pages, the sergeant at arms and his employees, and the capitol police who keep us safe here in the capitol and at times on distant baseball fields. i quite literally owe my life to them. thank you. mr. president, as i give this last speech from the chamber, i cannot help but look to my maiden speech i gave here just six years ago. in it, i talked about how 12 newly elected senate freshmen in 122012 were inwrited -- in 2012 were invited to the national archives where we viewed the first bill ever enacted by congress as well as other landmark pieces of legislation and memorabilia. oath of allegiance signed by revolutionary war soldiers witnessed by george washington,
documents and artifacts related to the civil war, segregation, women's suffrage and the civil rights movement were also on hand. i noted that it was an affirmation to me of the tumultuous sea through which our ship of state has sailed for more than 200 years with many brilliant and inspired individuals at the helm, along with personalities ranging from mediocre to malevolent. but our system of government has survived them all. i also noted then and i will echo today that serious challenges lie ahead but by any honest reckoning of our history and our prospectives, we will -- and our prospects, we will note that we have confront and survived more daunting challenges than we now face. ours is a -- resilient system of government designed to withstand the foibles of those who sometimes occupy these halls, including yours truly.
so i start a new chapter in the coming weeks. i am grateful most of all for the privilege of having served with all of you here. it is my sincere hope that those in this body will always remember the words of lincoln, who said, we shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. the way forward, he said, is, quote, plain, peaceful, generous , just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud and god will forever bless. i yield the floor. [applause] mr. heller: mr. president, i