Skip to comments.U.S. Senator Zell Miller, D-GA Floor Statement on Homeland Security Legislation
Posted on 09/25/2002 1:56:34 PM PDT by Howlin
September 25, 2002
U.S. Senator Zell Miller, D-GA
Floor Statement on Homeland Security Legislation
We don't teach our children the lessons of Aesop's fables much any more. "The Cat in the Hat" and Sesame Street's wisdom have taken their place.
But there's one fable I learned as a boy at my mother's knee sitting around an open fireplace that I believe is pertinent to this debate on homeland security that has so divided this Senate along party lines. It goes like this:
A certain man had several sons who were always quarreling with one another, and, try as he might, he could not get them to live together in harmony. So, he was determined to convince them of their folly.
Bidding them fetch a bundle of sticks, he invited each in turn to break it across his knee. All tried and all failed; and then he undid the bundle, and handed them the sticks one by one, which they had no difficulty at all in breaking them.
"There, my boys," said he, "united, you will be more than a match for your enemies.
But if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will put you at the mercy of all those who attack you."
That is a lesson for the ages. That is a lesson for both Democrats and Republicans. For the Executive and the Legislative branches of government.
I'm one of the most junior members of this body and I don't have the experience and I haven't seen near the number of bills that most of the other members have, so my historical perspective admittedly is limited.
But in the short time I've been here, I've never seen such a clear choice as there is on this issue. For me, there are no shades of gray. It is clear cut.
Why in the name of homeland security do we want to take power away from the President that he possessed on 9/11?
Power that Jimmy Carter had. Power that Ronald Reagan had. Power that the first President Bush had and power that Bill Clinton had.
Have we lost our minds?
Do you really want to face the voters with that position, that vote writ large on your forehead, like a Scarlet letter? And even larger on a 36-inch television ad two weeks before election day?
We must give the president the flexibility to respond to terrorism on a moment's notice. He's got to be able to shift resources, including personnel, at the blink of an eye.
Why do we hold so dear a personnel system that was created in 1833 and that is as outdated as an oxcart on the expressway?
When the civil service system was established well over a century ago, it had a worthy goal: To create a professional work force that was free of cronyism.
Back then it was valid. But too often in government, we pass laws to fix the problems of the moment and then we keep those laws on the books for years and year without ever following up to see if they are still needed.
The truth of the matter is that a solution from the 19th Century is posing a problem in the 21st. Especially when this country is threatened in such a different and sinister way.
Presently, we're operating under a system of governmental and personnel paralysis.
It offers little reward for good workers and provides lots of cover for bad workers.
Hiring a new federal employee can take five months - five months. Firing a bad worker takes more than a year - if it's allowable at all - because of the mountains of paperwork and hearings and appeals.
A federal worker can be caught knee-walking drunk on the job and can't be fired for 30 days and then he has the right to endless appeals.
Productivity should be the name of the game and we lose productivity when bad folks hold onto jobs forever and when jobs go unfilled for months.
Don't we realize there is another disaster looming just around the corner where American lives are going to be lost? And another one after that? And that these attacks against Americans - against our country - will occur for the rest of our lives?
Would anyone dare suggest that is not going to happen? Would anyone suggest that 9/11 was some kind of isolated phenomenon never to happen on American soil again? Surely no one - even the most naive optimistic - believes that. Surely no one in this body believes that.
Over sixty-thousand terrorists worldwide have already been identified. And terrorist cells in some unlikely places like Lackawanna, N. Y. have been discovered. They are everywhere.
And when these other attacks come - as certainly they will - do you not think Americans throughout this great land are not going to look back at the last three weeks of dilly-dallying in the U. S. Senate?
And when they do, do you not think that some hard questions and some terrible second-guessing will follow?
I can hear them now. The talk show lines will be clogged. The blame will be heaped on this body. Why was the U. S. Senate so fixated on protecting jobs instead of protecting lives?
The U.S. Senate's refusal to grant this President and future presidents the same power that four previous presidents have had will haunt the Democratic Party worst than Marley's ghost haunted Ebenezer Scrooge.
Why did they put workers' rights above American lives? Why did that 2002 U.S. Senate - on the one year anniversary of 9/11 - with malice and forethought, deliberately weaken the powers of the president in time of war?
And then why did this Senate - in all its puffed up vainglory - rear back and deliver the ultimate slap in the face of the president by not even having the decency to give him and up or down vote on his bill? This is unworthy of this great body. It is demeaning and ugly and over the top.
What were they thinking of? What could have possessed them?
Don't ask then for whom the bell tolls, it will toll for us.
Few leaders have understood the lessons of history as well as Winston Churchill. Because he was not only a soldier and a great political leader, he was also a Nobel Prize winning historian.
Perhaps, then, at this time we should remember the question Churchill framed to the world when he made that famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton Missouri at Westminister College in 1946.
He first reminded his audience that "War and tyranny remain the great enemies of mankind." And then he asked this question, "Do we not understand what war means to the ordinary person? Can you not grasp its horror?"
The old soldier went on and said some other very sensible and thought-provoking things, like "War used to be squalid and glorious, now it's just squalid."
Churchill being so blunt did not go over very well. The American media did not want to hear that kind of talk. They called him a "war monger." And even the usually gutsy Harry Truman denied knowing in advance what was in the speech and even suggested Churchill should not have given it.
But I want to repeat the line that is at the heart of today's sermon: "Do we not understand what war means to the ordinary person? Can we not grasp its horror?"
Has scoring points with some labor boss become more important than the safety of our citizens? Can you not grasp its horror?
I wonder if you would feel the same way if the Golden Gate Bridge was taken down by terrorists and 95 cars loaded with families plunged into San Francisco Bay?
Could you then not grasp its horror? Would you then in the name of homeland security still want to take powers away from the President?
Or would you feel the same way if that
beautiful little city of New Roads, Louisiana, on the False River, so peaceful with its Spanish moss in the live oak trees, were to go up in a mushroom cloud. Could you then not grasp its horror?
We rev up our emotions so easily to fight to keep super highways from leveling ethnic neighborhoods.
So, it would seem to me that we should get up the same kind of rage when terrorists want to level entire cities like Baltimore, or Atlanta or East St. Louis or the manicured mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.
If those beautiful cities were the target of a terrorist attack, could you then not grasp its horror?
Or the Space Needle in Seattle, filled with tourists, crashing to the ground?
Or a small pox epidemic in days wiping out completely the Twin Cities of Minnesota, or spreading across the sparsely settled plains of South Dakota?
From the great Atlantic Ocean to the Wide Pacific shore, from the Blue Ridge of Tennessee to Beacon Hill in Massachusetts, I guarantee you then this country would grasp war horror.
And as sure as night follows day, when catastrophes occur, the U.S. Senate will be held accountable if we fail to give the President the tools to do his job.
Why are the people back home always ahead of the politicians? Because most politicians - especially at our level - don't get out among them anymore.
Oh, we think we do. A town hall here, a senior center there. A focus group or two, perhaps. But we don't really. We don't talk to real people anymore. We're too busy holed up in a room dialing for dollars. And the only horror we can grasp from that experience is some fat cat telling us they've already maxed out.
Why are we even in this debate? How will it be recorded in years to come when the historians write their accounts of these days in the U.S. Senate in September 2002?
How will our actions be judged by the people who go to the polls this year on November 5?
Frankly, I think it will be one of our sorriest chapters, certainly the worst in my short time here. A chapter where special interests so brazenly trumped national interests.
Herodotus, who lived in Athens in the 4th Century B.C., is usually called the father of history.
He wrote about the Persian Wars and about the Battle of Marathon, which later historians called the seminal event in the history of freedom.
Herodotus wrote that the Persians lost that battle - even though their army was bigger and better equipped - because the Persians committed the sin of hubris.
Hubris is best defined as "outrageous arrogance." And if you study the lessons of history, especially the lessons of the history of freedom, you will find that hubris would time and time again bring down many other powerful civilizations.
Hubris - outrageous arrogance - is so prevalent in this debate. The hubris of some pinch-minded labor bosses and their purchased partridges in a pear tree.
Outrageous arrogance. What else can you call it when the interests of the few are raised above the welfare of the whole country?
For the rest of our lives we will have to live with what we do on this issue. Will we choose to protect the special interests or will we choose to protect the lives of Americans?
Will we tie the hands of our President or give him the same unfettered flexibility other presidents have had before him?
Don't let this be one of those votes you'll look back on and ask yourselves for the rest of your lives, "What was I thinking of?"
For as we are reminded in "The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam," "the moving finger writes and having writ moves on, nor all your piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it."
I ask one last time, Do we not understand what war means to the ordinary person? Can you not grasp its horror?
He's evil. All Democrats are evil.
Hit the ping list!!!!!!
C'mon, Zell, the water's fine on this side of the aisle...
Both sitting Senators and would-be Senators should be challenged to agree or disagree on this speech by a fine, DEMOCRAT Senator.
Help us poor, cubicle-bound folk...what's Shorty the Barber saying?