Elizabeth Dole

MLS Speech - Feb. 15, 1999

Elizabeth Dole
February 15, 1999— Ames, Iowa
Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics
Print friendly

Dole spoke at Iowa State University as the Spring 1999 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics.

Thank you so much, Martin, for that most generous introduction. You have been very successful in extending the mission of Iowa State University to include new partnerships with government, other educational institutions and the private sector. I know you've been active as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the American Council of Education. It was such a pleasure to see you at ACE on Monday. And thank you, Dianne, for all you do as director of the Catt Center to involve women in the political process, as an author of two books to contribute to the national thinking on women in politics and, as an educator of journalism and mass communications to inspire the leaders of our next generation. It is a privilege to be part of the Mary Louise Smith visiting professor series. She was a pioneer for women in politics - the first woman to chair either national political paI1y. I salute any woman who aspires to be the first in her field.

It is a joy to be here with you. In fact, it feels like a homecoming for me. Over the years, Bob and I have made countless friends in Iowa, and so many of them are here today.

And thank you Senator Grassley, for being here. Isn't it wonderful that you have such a fine senator in Washington, D.C.? Whether it's standing up for Iowa fanners, or seniors, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Aging, or cutting government waste as a co-sponsor of the IRS Reform Bill, nobody does a better job than Chuck Grassley. Everyone knows that Senator Grassley is the hardest working senator in Washington. And when you combine his hard work and Iowa common sense, not even Washington bureaucrats can stand in his way. In fact, his bill, the Congressional Accountability Act, places Congress under the same laws they pass for you and me. Now, isn't that a great idea!

Chuck, I know that you are famous for visiting all 99 counties each and every year. Over the years, I've had the privilege to visit them with you and Barbara, and you know what I've found: Iowans have a precious resource, a resource that is not so easy to come by in Washington these days. A resource you can't tap in the ground, or grow in a field. That resource: Iowans tell it like it is.

Sun up to sun down, Iowan's honesty, hard work, and common sense ate something we could use an extra dose of in Washington these days.

And every time I'm back in Iowa I am refreshed by something else that many find quaint -- that is, simple neighborliness.

I remember being in Iowa during the great floods of 1993. How many days was Des Moines without water? 78, 79? People spending hours in waterlines to get drinking water, or traveling 60, 100 miles just to take a shower. Well I remember meeting one of the thousands of volunteers that was out working to protect Des Moines. Despite a job, a family, and numerous other commitments, she had her sleeves rolled up, doing the backbreaking work to keep the raging waters from literally drowning Des Moines, Well, it was because of her and literally thousands of others, many of whom are probab1y in this audience today, that Des Moines came through the floods and got back on its feet as quickly as it did.

When America looks for heroes, it could do no better than to start with people like this. People who get up in the morning, go to work, live by the rules, raise a family, and help their neighbors in times of need. I saw this time and time again at the Red Cross and I'm reminded of this when I come here, when I see the red barns, and watch the changing color of the fields from winter into spring.

My small town of Salisbury, North Carolina is worlds away….[Campaign Humor]

. . . And speaking of Bob, in the early days of the Reagan Administration. I served as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. I was charged with rallying support for the President's agenda and one evening, my staff and I were meeting to divide up the names of senators who had not yet taken a public stand on one of the President's legislative initiatives.

The session came to an abrupt end when I said I was going home to cook a candlelight dinner. "That's great, Elizabeth," said my deputy. "But it's only 6:00 p.m.! Isn't this a bit early for you to be going home? Don't you want to finish targeting those undecided senators?"

"You don't seem to understand," I said. "Tonight, I'm targeting Bob Dole," And for those of you wondering, I did get Bob's vote. And even though the candlelight dinner was successful, I never tried it out on any other senator!

The art of persuading senators is just one lesson I have learned in my career in the nation's capital. During that career, I have been privileged to have three very distinct missions.

As secretary of transportation, I was charged with overseeing America's material resources -- our highways, airways, and railways. The sale of Conrail -- initial industrial stock offering -- $2 billion.

As secretary of labor, my priority was America's human resources -- improving the skills of our work force, helping to resolve a bitter coal strike.

And at the American Red Cross, my focus is on inner resources -- inspiring people to volunteer, to give of their financial resources and their blood.

And tonight, I've been asked to share with you a few of the insights I've gained about organizations and people, and a few observations about how America has changed...and how we must change in the future -- for in today's fast-paced world, the only constant is change.

Perhaps the biggest change I have witnessed during my career is the role of women -- both in Washington -- the public sector -- and in the work force in the private sector. I can still vividly recall my first day of class at Harvard Law School. I was one of 24 women in a class of 550. And a mate student came up to me and demanded to know what I was doing there. In what can only be described as tones of moral outrage, he said, "Elizabeth, what are you doing here? Don't you realize that there are men who would give their right arm to be in this law school -- men who would use their legal education?"

That man is now a senior partner in a very prestigious Washington law firm. And every so often I tell this little story around town. I love to tell this story! And you'd be amazed at the number of my male classmates in high-powered Washington law firms who've called me to say, "Tell me I'm not the one. Tell me I didn't say that, Elizabeth!" I'm going to let them stew about it awhile!

And I remember the day in the early 1970's when I was working at the Nixon White House as Deputy Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, and I hurried to the Metropolitan Club in Washington for a meeting with some Cleveland, Ohio attorneys and businessmen.

As I rushed by him, the doorman yelled, "Stop!! You can't go in there lady! Women are not permitted in this club!" I told him there must be some misunderstanding. "My name is Elizabeth Hanford," I said. "I work at the White House and I have a meeting on the 4th floor with some business people from Cleveland."

"I'm sorry," he said. "If you were Queen Elizabeth, you still couldn't go in." The meeting only took place after I sent over another staffer who may have been a man, but who had not -- as I had -- spent the entire week-end preparing for the meeting!

Those events occurred in the past. Today, over 40% of students entering Harvard Law School are female. The Metropolitan Club -- and many others across the country -- have long since opened their doors to women. And, at the Department of Labor, I met regularly with four assistant secretaries -- for Policy, Congressional Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Affairs -- all of whom were women.

And while women most certainly have not reached the millennium -- particularly in failing to equal the earnings of our male counterparts and in the disturbingly low increase in the number of women in top management positions -- there are other signs that women are playing key roles in the revolutionary change in America's work force. Women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. small business economy. And did you realize that these women owned businesses are employing more workers than the entire Fortune 500 corporations combined?

And as women enter the work force in record numbers they bring with them unique skills -- for example, dealing with needs, issues, and market forces that are often not clearly defined.

Rebecca McDonald, former President of Tenneco's natural gas marketing subsidiary points out, "Women have a higher tolerance for ambiguity because we're always responsible for tending to the emotional needs of others -- which ate very fluid. We learn to read between the lines and come up with creative solutions for accommodating people." In my case. I had a baptism by fire when it came to searching for creative solutions. During my very first days in Washington, I took a month between jobs (0 learn my way around the courtroom by observing proceedings in the D.C. night court -- so that I could take cases for indigents who could not afford a lawyer….(story of defending indigent accused of petting lion in National Zoo).

While I was challenged by my courtroom experiences, I decided from almost my first day in Washington that I would bypass the full-time practice of law, and instead seek a career in government service. Like many others of my generation, I regarded public service as a noble calling -- as a chance to make a difference in the issues of our time.

Some said back then that I had "stars in my eyes" when it came to my desire (0 work in government. And perhaps I did. But my years as a servant of the public were everything I had hoped for and more. And that's a message I share as often as I can with America's young people.

I share it because over the years, Americans have grown increasingly disenchanted with our government. I believe many qualified people are being discouraged from entering government service. The words, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help," are guaranteed to get laughs. And that was not the case when I started out.

In fact, at the end of the 1950's and the beginning of the '60's, when Americans were asked "How much of the time can you trust your government to do the right thing?" two out of every three citizens answered "all of the time" or "most of the time."

When that question is asked today, "all of the time," or "most of the time," is the response of barely one out of ten Americans.

What's behind this dramatic transformation? The federal government has become too big, too complex, too bureaucratic. Decisions once made in state legislatures, in city halls, and around kitchen tables, are now made in Washington. People feel that their government doesn't have confidence in their wisdom, therefore, they shouldn't have confidence in the government.

What we need to do, it seems, is to remember the wisdom of our country's founders, and the 10th Amendment to the Constitution: Those powers not specifically delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states are reserved for the states and for "we the people." -- you and me!

And speaking of our Founders, have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence...

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships imposed by the war.

They pledged their lives, and their fortunes, and they honored their pledge} so that we could enjoy the blessing of liberty.

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were fanners and large plantations owners; Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken, and he was poverty stricken.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that British General Cornwallis, had taken over his home for his headquarters. Nelson quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis' home and properties were destroyed. The enemy slapped his wife in jail where, she died a few months later.

John Hart was driven from his wife's sick bed. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and grist mill were laid waste. For more than a year Hart lived in forests and caves. He returned home to find his wife dead and his children gone. Within weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

These men who invented America were not wild-eyed, rabble rousers. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They placed a greater value on liberty than security. With a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, they pledged to each other, their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor." And courageous men and women of honor have continued to sacrifice for our country throughout our history.

What would these Patriots think if they could see America today? What's happened to honor, duty, personal responsibility?

Three and four decades ago, a generation came of age In this country with expectations as innocent as they were grand. We wanted for America more freedom, more tolerance, more compassion. And there were amazing advances. We overturned legal segregation and made progress against discrimination. We have seen real gains for minorities and women. And we must never go back. Not an inch. American ingenuity transformed the way people work, learn, and communicate, in a world without walls.

Who among us would turn back the clock? Yet this country, which has come so far, has lost so much. Our sense of limitless possibility has run into a stone wall of crime, violence, drugs, illegitimacy and incivility. The deep and unsettling fear is that the nation given to us by our Founders -- given to us by our parents -- was a much better place than the America we are preparing to turn over to our children.

And the insult of this injury is that our intentions were good.

We wanted our schools not only to teach, but to nurture children's self-esteem and solve a variety of social problems. But now, in many cases, they hardly teach at all. When we were growing up, our education system was the envy of the world. Now almost every parent whose child can't escape our schools is desperate to reform them.

We wanted to end the silly censorship which kept Joyce's "Ulysses" in a brown paper wrapper. But we have ended up with a pornographic culture and a society that no longer blushes.

We ached for poor children hungry, in the richness of America, and created a welfare system to help them. But when we substituted hand-outs for jobs, we destroyed responsibility. When welfare programs offered a choice between cash and a husband, we devalued marriage. When fatherless children took control of the streets, we lost society's linchpin: respect for the law.

We wanted to ensure that OUT courts were fair, our police were careful and that the innocent had a chance to be heard -- regardless of personal wealth or political power. But today we have a system of crime without punishment, victims without justice, and neighborhoods without peace.

We are a good and noble people, but we have forgotten that the strength of our rights depends on their limits. That the shifting sands of changing wants is no ground upon which to build a nation. We don't have to abandon our dreams. but we must not forget the values and principles that allowed us the luxury of dreaming.

We want the world of our children to be a safe harbor, shielded from worry. Our parents managed that for us. We lived in homes with locks we didn't turn, on streets where we played safely till dark on long summer evenings.

But what has happened to that simple gift? Children today have e-mail and Nintendo, but what they lack is the ease of living in a world without worry. Why are we not giving our children what was given to us?

There are many, complex reasons. But I believe there is one reason above the others: in seeking to make America better, we have neglected what made her good. We have been embarrassed to talk about the values that make our lives happy and safe and fulfilled. The values of those patriots, responsibility and altruism; courage and perseverance; discipline; modesty; and a willingness to work not for our own gratification, but for the joy of knowing that our children will benefit.

We must ask ourselves if in pursuing life's options, we have left behind the fundamentals.

We have campus speech codes to keep us civil. We apply harassment rules to schoolyard kisses. Drug policies have become so tied in knots we can no longer distinguish between aspirin and crack. And edicts from our courts now protect the freedom of molesters and stalkers and abusers so well that America's children and daughters and wives no longer trust society to keep them safe.

This substitution of regulation for responsibility is a kind of Puritanism for people who no longer believe in character, who no longer believe in the wisdom and goodness of the people. But we will never write enough rules... Individual and national character are what we need.

I think many of us have reached a point of reflection -- a kind of collective head-shaking. Are we content with what is happening on our watch? When we pass control of America to our children, will we be proud of the choices we made? Of the country those choices produced?

Are things beginning to change? I believe the answer is yes. "Do your own thing!" is giving way to "Respect your parents." Family time is becoming a priority again. People are openly hungry for the inner peace that comes from faith. And countless children are going to sleep each night to the sound of a parent's voice reading from the Book of Virtues.

And what is true in our lives can also be true in our country.

We must choose education over social engineering. We must teach our children again the basics of math and reading and citizenship. How appalling that one in four high school seniors in the great United States of America is considered functionally illiterate! We must return discipline and parental involvement to every school. And in those cases -- especially in low-income areas -- where schools have failed completely, parents must be given other choices.

We must choose to return safety to our streets, and moral seriousness to our war on drugs. Drug use among our youth is up 141 % among teenagers in recent years. Cocaine use was up 166% in one year alone, 8th grade marijuana use has tripled. And here in Iowa, you have been witness to an epidemic of methamphetamine. Many unfortunately believe that drugs are an isolated problem. But here in Iowa, methamphetamine has penetrated every nook and cranny in the state. From Des Moines, to Creston, from the cities to the countryside, meth is present. When you have children who should be playing their first junior high school basketball game being attested for selling meth, our world has gone astray.

I know, Senator Grassley, that you've put together an anti-drug coalition, called Face It Together (FIT), which seeks to bring people together in a community-based approach to fight this epidemic; parents, students, businesses, our religious leaders, law enforcement, and the media. And I applaud your efforts.

As citizens of the greatest country on the face of the earth, we've got to trust ourselves and our values, not solely the government and its intentions. I believe we must direct resources and authority back to parents and principals, policemen and pastors -- men and women with the power to turn a community around, starting with a single life or a single classroom or a single street corner.

None of us can claim perfection and few can wear the mantle of hero or heroine, but each of us has the option of choosing a life of decency and self-discipline, self-reliance and diligence, a life dedicated to making a difference, a positive difference for others. From time to time we all fail our own standards, but our standards will never fail us.

Yes, our nation has been on a long and restless journey. But we have begun to rediscover the place that is our home. We can never return to an age of innocence. But we can move on to an age of rediscovery. With clear heads, open eyes, and full hearts we can choose above all else those things that are most important, that will endure, that we will always see as noble.

Our future is not preordained -- we must choose it. But I believe it is the American destiny to choose well.

Thank you very much and God bless you.