Mr. President, I would first like to thank the Senator from Oklahoma, Mr. Coburn, for allowing me to take a few minutes to speak about something very important in my State--the fact that tomorrow would be Hubert Humphrey's 100th birthday.
Hubert Humphrey was our "Happy Warrior" in Minnesota. He was the son of a smalltown South Dakota drugstore owner who lifted himself up through hard work and determination to become the mayor of Minneapolis, a U.S. Senator representing Minnesota, and the 38th Vice President of the United States of America.
I actually have Hubert Humphrey's desk--something I requested when I got to the Senate. It somehow got in a different category, and for the first 2 years I had the desk of the former Senator from New Hampshire, Gordon Humphrey. But then, lo and behold, with the start of this last Congress, I did get Hubert Humphrey's desk.
I was a senior in high school when Hubert Humphrey passed away, and I can still remember standing in line for his funeral in St. Paul. It was January, and it was one of those days where it was below zero--freezing. Yet there we were, standing outside the State capitol, all of us in our puffy winter jackets, 40,000 people waiting to pay our respects. That is how much Hubert Humphrey was loved in our State, loved enough for people to stand outside for hours in the dead cold of a Minnesota winter.
I can honestly say that Humphrey had an enormous impact on my own views of public service. You can go down the list of landmark Federal legislation in the past 60 years, and his fingerprints are all over them--civil rights, Medicare, nuclear arms control, the Peace Corps, the list goes on and on. Hubert Humphrey's impact continues to be felt in our State.
Humphrey was a compassionate man, but he was no pushover. He never backed down from a fight worth fighting. When he was asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 1948, he dove headfirst into one of the most controversial topics at the time--racial inequality. It was a gutsy move, especially considering how divisive civil rights issues were for the Democratic Party. And let's not forget that as a 37-year-old mayor of Minneapolis--and the Presiding Officer can relate to this as a former mayor himself--Humphrey's political career was just getting off the ground. He had a lot to lose. But he was convinced that segregation and Jim Crow were hurting our country, and he was determined to challenge the status quo on the national stage even if it meant risking his political career. That was Hubert Humphrey.
I think the last, most important thing to point out about Hubert Humphrey is that he was above all things an optimist. To this day, the Senate, according to our colleagues, has never seen anyone quite like him--bursting with energy, idealism and hopefulness, a happy warrior.
I have a picture of the "Happy Warrior" hanging in my front office, and it hangs there in a visible place for a good reason. It is because I am convinced that now more than ever our Nation needs a good dose of the hope and optimism that defined Hubert Humphrey's life.
The truth is, we have to go back decades to find a time when we were confronted with so many challenges--two difficult wars, a crushing debt load, and our quest to end our dependence on foreign oil and develop our own homegrown energy. The way we choose to address these challenges will determine the course of our Nation for decades to come. History will tell us whether we are right or wrong, timid or courageous.
I believe we must choose courage, but not only that, we must also choose optimism. We must take a page from Hubert Humphrey's book and strive for that resilience he displayed in public life. I think about the inscription on his gravestone at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. It is a quote from Humphrey himself: "I have enjoyed my life, its disappointments outweighed by its pleasures. I have loved my country in a way that some people consider sentimental and out of style. I still do. And I remain an optimist with joy, without apology, about this country and about the American experiment in democracy."
These are words that resonate today, words that remind us of the amazing life and legacy of a man who did so much for the causes of justice, democracy, and accountability. America is a better place for his leadership, and that is why we honor him today.
Mr. President, I again thank my colleague from Oklahoma for allowing me to put in these good words for Senator Humphrey.
I yield the floor.