Elizabeth Dole

Address to the Kennedy School of Government - June 3, 1998

Elizabeth Dole
June 03, 1998— Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Bless you. Thank you so much. Beautiful. Wow. Thank you so much. Thank you. Dean Nye I thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today. And Sheila, thank you so much for that beautiful introduction. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I don't deserve all that but I appreciate it no less. I have to say when you were mentioning calling the office to try to get something done in my husband's office, he would say, "Ask Sheila. Sheila will get it done." I remember the time that I visited with Mother Theresa in Baltimore. I was in awe. I walked in and was literally tears because this awesome woman you know. Little tiny lady. She had something very much on her mind. She wanted me to try to get the money that her Sisters of Mercy had to pay for visas waived. She sent me out of there. I got on the car phone the minute I got to the car and said, "Sheila, can you possibly make this happen for Mother Theresa?" Remember that one? I just thought of it as you were making your comments. We found that that was not possible because there would be too many other groups who want to do the same thing. But since Mother Theresa said, "This is money to be used for the poorest of the poor." And they have to pay for visas. So we did get the Knights of Columbus, I think, to flip the bill for them. Get it done. Sheila will get it done no question. One way or another. I certainly don't have to tell anyone around the Kennedy School how fortunate you are to have Sheila Burke in the Dean's Office. Yes indeed.

In her relatively short time here, Sheila has again demonstrated the extraordinary talent and commitment that made her such an essential part of the Senate family. A heartfelt thanks to the Class of 1998 for the warmth of your welcome and honor of sharing this special moment with you, your families, friends and instructors. For me, today represents something of a homecoming for my own Harvard ties go back nearly forty years. That's hard for me to believe. It's seems like yesterday really. There are so many memories everywhere here. Whatever I may have accomplished in the realm of public service I owe in no small degree to this marvelous institution where scholarship and citizenship are mutually reinforcing. And ancient tradition thrives alongside the most revolutionary hypothesis. The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations for which the Red Cross has launched a constructive partnership is a superb illustration of Harvard at its best. And certainly we thank Rita and Gus Hauser for having both the vision and the generosity to make it happen. Let me just say how wonderful it is to see Al Simpson in the audience today. You know Al and Bob were great teammates in the Senate. I still think an Al and Bob show would add wonderful humor on the evening television programs. Don't you think? It's wonderful. Already just today you cracked three jokes that I'm trying to remember so that I can use them in future speeches. The most wonderful sense of humor. And what a tremendous leader for the Institute of Politics. You are fortunate indeed ladies and gentlemen. Now since I value Sheila's judgment so much, naturally I asked her what tone she thought I should take before this rarified audience. She said that I should be, "contemporary but not too contemporary." So consider yourselves warned. In the next half hour or so you'll hear no mention whatsoever of: the Titanic; Jerry Springer; Jerry Seinfeld; Godzilla; executive privilege; Michael Jordan's retirement; the danger posed to earth by incoming comets; or Viagra. Especially Viagra. Not that I lack an agenda. Now, now. Don't carry that too far now. Bob likes to say, "Whenever I see a crowd this large I'm tempted to hold a blood drive." Let me assure you it's not your blood I'm after today. Rather it's your hearts and minds.

In such a setting one recalls Woodrow Wilson's admonition that, "Government should not only use all the brains it has but all that it can borrow." One brain that President Wilson most emphatically did not borrow was that of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge> His literary and politically rival who returned Wilson's disdain with interest compounded. According to legend Lodge objected to the President's proposed League of Nations for reasons of style as well as diplomacy. After reading the League's Wilphonian covenant the self-professed "Scholar in Politics" declared that, "While it might pass muster at Princeton it would never make the grade at Harvard."

Senator Lodge personified a Harvard tradition. One at least as old as John Adam's eighteenth century boast to his cousin Sam that, "Boston town meetings at our Harvard College have set the universe in motion." This claim is immodest yet no one familiar with American history, particularly with the story of American government, can dismiss it altogether. At the dawn of our own century it was another Harvard graduate, Theodore Roosevelt, who challenged social conventions by declaring his intention to join what he called, "The governing class." Franklin Roosevelt took fire from his distant cousin's flame. As an undergraduate, F.D.R. emulated his public minded classmates by enrolling in the Harvard Social Service Society doing missionary work and attending Professor Francis Peabody's seminal course, "Ethics of the Social Questions". Popularly known around campus as "Pebo's Drainage, Drunkenness and Divorces".

As Harvard celebrated its three hundredth anniversary in 1936 the father of the New Deal urged his alma mater to embrace all the challenges of modernity. Even at the risk of courting political controversy. "Harvard must not be content simply to train lawyers, doctors, teachers or businessmen. Important as those fields are." Harvard, said F.D.R., "should train citizens of the world. Modern day Athenians mindful of their civic responsibilities and the special obligations that come with privilege." In a sense he was preaching to the choir. Certainly in the years since, thanks in no small measure to the pioneering work of Dean Nye, Graham Alison and others, the Kennedy School has become much more than an educator of future leaders in government. Indeed this school, devoted to making government work better, is confronting fundamental questions about the very nature of the relationship between citizen and government. And the values of public trust and civic duty that we all once took for granted.

Under Dean Nye's Visions of Governance project, the Kennedy School is addressing these momentous questions about the percipient decline in trust in government and the profound changes in information technology, globalization and the increasing use of markets to meet social needs. Changes that require revolution in the way we think about governments and the values that hold us together as a people. As students at the Kennedy School you have been reminded that self alone can never form the basis for a truly satisfying existence. You were here because you care about society as well as success. You leave knowing that society's highest values are not to be calculated in dollars and cents. And that in the words of the writer Willa Cather, "That is happiness. To be dissolved in something complete and great." You came to Harvard to master a culture in which change seems to be the only constant. In the course of your studies you have learned how to accept change while holding fast to values that are timeless. On the brink of a new millennium it should be obvious that the empires of tomorrow will take shape in classrooms and science labs. Not on battle fields or beneath the gilded chandeliers of diplomatic reception rooms. This fact poses challenges of its own. Modern technology has all but annihilated national boundaries. With profound consequences for everyone who values human liberty as a gift from God not government.

Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It is the truth that seeps through walls topped with walls of barbed wire. Less we forget, even the Iron Curtain proved powerless against the microchip. Yet, the very tidal wave churning our fax machines and saturating our air ways can imprison as well as liberate. Pick up a copy of today's New York Times. In that single edition you will be exposed to more information than an educated citizen of Elizabethan England could expect to encounter in a life time. In this age of virtual reality, automated tellers, and five hundred channels in which to watch infomercials for the Abflex, may I suggest that we frazzled humans have need of inspiration as well as information. And a faith to match our fax. And that's where you come in. Before there was a Kennedy School of Government there was a Kennedy presidency. And a quickening of the nation's pulse as America excerpted a moral authority to match her military power. The sense of new and limitless possibilities was contagious as I can personally attest. I arrived in Cambridge for the first time in the fall of 1959. To enroll in a joint degree program combining the study of government with the occupation of teaching. The following summer I wrangled a job on Lyndon Johnson's Vice Presidential Whistle Stop tour of the South. This didn't go over terribly well with my father. A business man and a dedicated Republican whose distrust of the Democratic party was equaled by his concern that I might actually pursue a full time career in politics of all things. "Now Dad", I reassured him, "It will be perfectly alright. It's just a learning experience. It doesn't mean anything." That's how aspiring women talked in those days. At least aspiring Southern women.

Under J.F.K., Harvard was said to be the fourth branch of government. As if to confirm this shortly after his tense Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev, President Kennedy chanced to meet Harvard President Nathan Pusey. Their conversation revolved around the demands made on American presidents and how they had multiplied since the office had been filled a generation earlier by another Harvard man. As Kennedy put it, "Well Natt, when Franklin had this job he didn't have all these world problems. He had only to cope with poverty in the United States. But look what I've got." Such stories even as exaggerated in the retelling led more than a few observers to talk of Harvard Hubris. In retrospect, the sixties were both exhilarating and sobering. Nowhere more so than in Cambridge. For me personally they were an introduction to public service as the most fulfilling of careers. One summer I worked in the Latin America division of the Peace Corps. Another summer I was a tour guide at the United Nations. Eventually I was assigned to the General Secretariat for a worm's eye view of international diplomacy. Not to mention my very own slice of Cold War history. After a member of the Soviet Delegation asked me out to dinner the F.B.I. got wind of it. And I found myself summoned to an impromptu interrogation in a Manhattan parking lot. Can you believe it? I never got asked out again by anyone from behind the Iron Curtain. So much for geopolitics.

Nearly as frustrating was my introduction to Harvard Law School. Sheila's told you a little bit about that story but I'm just going to repeat it with a little of the emotion that I remember. Because those words are forever emblazoned on my mind. I remember what I was wearing. Where I was standing. These were the first words I heard at Harvard Law School. I walked into Langdell Hall over there. This male classmate of mine walked up to me on the first day and he said, "What are you doing here." In tones that could only be described as tones of moral outrage. "What are you doing here Elizabeth? What are you doing here? Don't you know that there are men who would give their right arm to be in this law school. Men who would use their legal education." Now those were the first words I heard. Imagine. Every now and then since, that man is the senior partner in a very prestigious Washington law firm, I tell that little story around town. You know, I'll be honest, I love to tell that story around town. You would be amazed at the number of my classmates in high powered Washington law firms who called up to say, "Tell me I didn't say it Elizabeth. Tell me I'm not the one." I'm just going to let them stew about it. I really am. The press would love to know too.

As a newly minted lawyer in 1965 I headed straight for Washington. I have to admit it was sort of like a magnet. And I was a Democrat those days you see. In the Johnson White House I experienced firsthand the early days of consumerism. Later President Nixon named me to the Federal Trade Commission. And when Bob, who had been serving in the Senate, asked me to marry him in 1975, Washington was awash in jokes about illegal mergers. Remember that? And we wrote back some pretty good answers. Didn't we Sheila?

Having served in administrations of both parties I had a bipartisan take on the law of unintended consequences. And on a government whose best intentions could produce the worst of results. In time I concluded that the two most dangerous words in the English language may just be, "either or". As in: right or left; private or public; liberty or security. Let us be aware of those ubiquitous labels that we pin on programs and public servants. Even as Madison Avenue loves to categorize consumers by income and demographics. You know, there is Generation X. Successors to the Boomers who in turn are divided between hipsters and the "Me" generation. And it goes on and on. Let me suggest an alternative. Applicable in politics and every other field in modern life. Why not dispense with labels altogether. After all what is a label but a preconception brought to life. A marketing tool that blurs your identity and judges you by the car you drive, the jeans you wear, or the CD's that you buy. The modern world cries out for leaders not labels. After all it wasn't a label that wrote the Gettysburg Address. Or founded the Solidarity Trade Union. Or refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. No demographics scaled the Berlin Wall. Or formulated the theory of relativity. Or imagined the Kennedy School into existence. It is just such leaders who will be called upon to reinvigorate democracy around the world. Perhaps many of you have become turned off by today's virtual political campaigns. Wherein candidates, with one clear exception, candidates without ideas hire consultants without convictions to create TV spots without substance. The result is as predictable as it is regrettable. Elections without voters. Under the circumstances it becomes all too easy to turn inward. Taking refuge in the storm shelter of self-absorption. In his provocative phrase Bowling Alone Professor Robert Putnam has described a larger vision of civil society in the midst of profound degeneration. He and others have noted that town and school meetings play to all but empty halls. And membership has dwindled in political parties, unions, and civic and fraternal organizations. These are challenges that you, Class of 1998 will face. I trust in your awareness. There are as many ways to serve as there are possibilities disguised as problems.

Needless to say, the New Deal and the New Frontier were hardly the only administrations to benefit from Harvard expertise. For much of this century Americans have turned to Washington in search of prosperity and social justice. Yet times change. Nations evolve. The life jacket of one generation can become the straight jacket of the next. In the wake of Vietnam and Watergate thoughtful people across the political spectrum began to question whether government had grown too large, too remote, too unresponsive, and finally too undemocratic to be genuinely representative. In doing so they took a page from the New Englanders Book. For it was here in the cradle of liberty and the home of the town meeting that we first defined government as preeminently self-government. One strong enough to lead and wise enough to listen. One best organized from the ground up not dictated from the top down.

By the 1980's Americans were not alone in envisioning a society in which individuals are held responsible for their actions just as surely as institutions are held accountable for theirs. In common with many other lands we decided to apply a means test to government. We wanted a government that would treat us as consumers of services not clients of the state. One that would foster competition and put an end to public as well as private monopolies. We demanded that government at all levels work as hard to justify its expenditures as most people do just to satisfy the tax collector. It was a trend Harvard had already anticipated. Early in this century President Charles William Elliot declaring, "We seek to train doers." proposed a school of public service for Cambridge. Nearly seventy years would pass before another visionary, Harvard President Derek Bok, realized Elliot's dream by fashioning a new kind of graduate school. International in makeup. Liberated from traditional departmental borders. A model of intellectual cross pollination. The Class of 1998 is a magnificent testament to this vision. You hail from nearly seventy countries. Your ambitions are as diverse as your backgrounds. Some of you are old hands at drafting legislation, guiding research, or formulating economic policies. Many of you have returned to the classroom in the midst of your careers to rethink institutions of popular government. Perhaps one third of you will never serve on the public payroll at all. But you will serve the public nonetheless through your work in the nonprofit community. Whether your employer is McKinsey and Company, the World Bank, or yes the Red Cross, matters less than the uncommon faith that bonds you. For you believe with all your heart that service comes before self. The world is eager for what you have to give it.

At the end of the twentieth century fresh winds blow across most of the planet. The rule of law supplants the whim of the dictator. In this global spring people everywhere have recognized that while elected officials cannot replace the spark of individual genius that makes for societies greatest advances. They can encourage others to kindle a flame and dispel the darkness. So when we hear that the era of big government is over let us just remember no one believes for a moment that the era of big challenges or even bigger opportunities is over. My own career has paralleled these changes. As Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan I did not shy away from Washington's traditional responsibility to advocate and where necessary regulate. So we change the climate for automotive safety in America by fighting for the ultimate protection: the use of both seat belts and airbags in cars. We overhauled an outdated airline inspection system. In fact I found that the handbook for inspectors hadn't been changed in twenty-eight years. And we were going through, or had gone through, deregulation. And so we put a special emphasis on ensuring airline safety in the age of deregulation. At the same time we applied lessons learned from the private sector. This led to defederalizing two airports serving the nation's capital and returning Conrail to private management. Even as we commercialized outer space and broke NASA's monopoly on the heavens. As Secretary of Labor I pursued corporation between labor and management. My visit to the coal fields of southwest Virginia and subsequent appointment of a super mediator lead to the settlement of a bitter eleven months United Mine Workers Strike against the Pittsman Coal Company. I'll never forget my husband down in Florida thinking everyday I'd get there for the Christmas holidays. Finally that strike was settled on New Year's Eve. So I was in my office throughout the holidays but what a joy it was when we were able to celebrate the conclusion of that strike. Meanwhile I sent another kind of strike force into the field to lead a nationwide crackdown on child labor violations. And to help break the glass ceiling impeding women and minorities from senior management opportunities. The Labor Department investigated and publicized both success stories and areas in which the private sector needed to do more.

For me the most rewarding times in my public service career were not spent in smoke filled rooms exchanging political gossip. Rather they were in classrooms helping at risk youths and teen mothers who were turning their lives around. In agricultural fields meeting with migrant workers who needed a voice in Washington. Or deep beneath the earth's service listening as miners described the dangers they confront with every shift. And now more recently in far flung corners of the world where people fall victim to natural disaster. Or struggle simply to cope with daily existence. In my six years at the Red Cross I've seen the evil that humans can inflict on one another. Seen it in the dim eyes of starving children in Somalia and in the paralyzing grief of parents in Oklahoma City. I witnessed the monstrous destruction unleashed by nature in the rubble of neighborhoods laid waste by Hurricane Andrew. I've felt the hopelessness and despair of families who have lost everything to a tornado's brief, terrifying violence. But I've also seen, felt, and have been uplifted by the extraordinary power of human generosity. Of a kindness not legislated by any Congress or Parliament. But mandated by faith and neighborliness and yes, occasional saintliness. Last month I met the Kings who live in a rural mining community in Alabama. Henry King, a dignified gentlemen in his seventies, now bears a burden almost inconceivable to most of us. On April 8th his extended family gathered for what was to be a joyous family reunion. Instead on that date one of the spring's deadly tornados bore down on his modest home. As they heard the approaching winds children and grandchildren thought first of Henry's wife, Inez, and struggled to carry her and her wheelchair downstairs to the basement. But the tornado out raced them. Its two hundred and fifty mile per hour winds tearing through the house. Killing Inez, the King's two daughters, a son-in-law, a granddaughter and a family friend. Virtually everything the family owned was destroyed. No one can undo such grievous suffering. But we can minister to its victims. Red Cross volunteers do just that. And I wish you could have seen what we saw in Spencer, South Dakota the other day to make you feel grateful for all that you have. To see a town, ninety percent of it wiped off the map. Only twelve buildings left standing. The entire community just gone: the Fire Department; the Police Department; the Post Office; all the homes; and six fatalities. These were modest homes. It was an area of rural South Dakota where most of the families in those homes were very elderly people. And what broke my heart was to think they lost not only their home and their physical belongings but a lifetime of memories. All the pictures and all the wonderful things that are just gone. You suddenly are left with nothing. Well these Red Crossers are extraordinary care givers who go wherever and whenever they are needed. And they rushed in to help the King family as they rushed in to help the residence of Spencer, South Dakota. Mental health counselors provide emotional support. A condolence team insured that loved ones were able to attend the funerals. Funerals that the Red Cross itself helped to pay for. These same volunteers will stand by Mr. King and all other victims of disaster for a long time to come. Insuring they have a place to stay and food, clothing and household necessities as they rebuild from such terrible tragedies.

Ours is a cynical age. So we are reminded with virtually every news cycle. But cynicism cannot withstand the caring and compassion of loving neighbors. Can public officials learn from such people? I think it is a question that answers itself. Through the years government has worked tirelessly and often imaginatively to address the needs of citizens through various social programs. Such efforts have done much to highlight the issues of poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse. But as you know all to well, these problems have proved stubbornly resistant to government intervention alone. In the words of management guru, Peter Drucker, "Even the best intentioned public programs have not filled the vacuum created by the disappearance of traditional community." Nowhere is that community better preserved or more strongly motivated than in nonprofit organizations. At their best they foster civic connections by entrusting the toughest challenges to the greatest of hearts. Margaret Mead put it best, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It's the only thing that everyone has." There are several reasons for this. To begin with nonprofits like the Red Cross are rooted in the community. Their close to the ground radar picks up local needs earlier and more accurately than anyone else. They are uniquely qualified to forge creative partnerships that pool the resources of churches and schools, businesses and civic groups. Moreover most charities are held in higher esteem than most government offices. We have to do something about that, don't we? People trust us to deliver what we promise. And that's a problem right now. The lack of trust in government. I'm so glad that the Kennedy School is really focusing on this. But I think our advantages don't end there. Lean by necessity and reasonable unencumbered by bureaucracy, nonprofits are highly sensitive to changes in the society. And flexible in their response. Not having to earn a profit or yield to shifting political winds we quickly address an emerging need. Such as today's aging population or else we watch as another nonprofit is created to so. Now I don't want to suggest we are perfect by any means. Or that we have nothing to learn. Especially from the private sector. Certainly the Red Cross has undergone enormous change in recent years. As with government we too have been forced to rethink and restructure the way we provide services. To private conscience and public necessity one can add the market place as a driving force behind these changes. Since 1991 we have invested Two Hundred and Eighty Seven Million Dollars at the Red Cross in totally revolutionizing the way that we collect, test and distribute one-half of America's blood supply. In place of twenty-eight different computer systems and fifty-three non-standardized semiautonomous blood testing regions we built eight brand new, best in the world, state of the art labs. Linked by a single next generation computer and quality assurance second to none. New standards of accountability make America's largest supplier of blood and blood products the world's safest and most reliable operation of its kind. And let me say that we are very grateful for the participation in blood drives here at the Kennedy School. I understand that many of you have been very much involved and certainly the donors are essential to the work that we do. We are also overhauling all of our financial systems. Thanks to an entirely new field structure and tough new standards for every chapter there are fewer Red Cross chapters today. Because unless they maintain those standards of excellence they lose their charter. Yet our service delivery to every community in America is better than it has been in the past. So we are doing more. Doing it better and increasing our public accountability to consumers and donors alike. That is because we are trying to move toward a more business orientated basis. Keep that humanitarian heart. But if we are going to move into the next millennium as a strong organization we have to stay ahead of change. All of which validates the old axiom that says, "When you're through changing, you're through." Meanwhile the exhilarating changes of which I speak promise remarkable opportunities for the world that the Class of 1998 inherits. A generation ago public-private partnerships represented an innovative alternative to the bureaucratic status quo. Today the very terms public and private are being redefined. As I speak the Red Cross is on the verge of creating its own medical breakthrough. Among them a miraculous new kind of bandage that can seal off bleeding vessels in seconds. Save thousands of lives and decrease the need for blood transfusions. In addition our scientist have find ways to produce human plasma protein in the milk of livestock animals. A protein unlimited in supply, relatively inexpensive to make, and resistant to AIDS and hepatitis. We are partnering with farming health care products to bring it to market. And this is just the beginning. Instead of the limited concept of just public-private partnership I ask you to imagine a series of ventures wherein nonprofit organizations produce the next generation of life saving devices. The government assumes responsibility for testing and validating their promise. Then free enterprise steps in to manufacture and market what has been perfected by private scientist and public watchdogs. In a world where the old barriers are rapidly crumbling, partnerships will give way to alliances I believe. Just as the Red Cross is teaming up with the Kennedy School and its Hauser Center to foster new links between the nonprofit world and those in government and academia. It is exactly this kind of unconventional thinking that will move us beyond the stale dogmas of yesterday and the artificial restrictions of "either-or".

A century ago Harvard Yard was encircled with a brick wall bearing a motto dear to President Elliot's heart, "Enter to grow in wisdom," it reads. "Depart to serve thy country and thy kind." On the eve of the next millennium the Class of 1998 expands Elliot's admonition to include all mankind. And I'd like to share in closing with you a few words from my husband when he received the Medal of Freedom. He said, "I have found honor in the profession of politics. I have found vitality in the American experiment. I've been in government at moments when politics was elevated by courage and the history. When the Civil Rights Act was passed. When the Americans with Disabilities became law. No one who took part in those honorable causes can doubt that public service at its best is noble. The moral challenges of our time can seem less clear but they still demand conviction, and courage, and character. They still require young men and women with faith in our process. They still demand idealists captured by the honor and adventure of service." For the rest of your lives you will embody the spirit of service to others. It is no exaggeration to say that your individual careers will help to light the path ahead. For lives end, customs change, fads come and go, but the spirit of service endures to cast it's glow of inspiration and healing. And by that light we can all find our way home. May God bless each and every one of you. Congratulations and all the luck in the world! Thank you very much.

Sources: Speech came from a webpage at the Kennedy School of Government which no longer exists.

Copyright 1998 by Elizabeth Dole. All rights reserved.

Speech from http://gos.sbc.edu/d/dole2.html.