Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander on Passing of William F. Buckley and FISA

Posted on February 27, 2008

I might start with that. I thought the Congress got off to a pretty good start this year. The President and the House of Representatives agreed on an economic stimulus package. All of us had different ideas about it, but the President and the House agreed on something, sent it over here, and we had what I would call a principled debate about it –- a disagreement over whether to spend $40 billion more on it than the House-passed legislation, and the Senate objected to that. That was dropped. Then we passed it, sent it to the President, and he signed it. That spirit of having a principled argument, resolving it, and helping the American people got us off to a good start. We did the same thing on the FISA legislation Senator Kyl, the Senator from Arizona, just described. He was a major force in that. That was a principled debate as well. Samuel Huntington, the distinguished Harvard professor who is the former president of the American Political Science Association, says that most of our conflicts in our democracy are conflicts between or among principles, with which most of us agree -- for example, liberty and security. Each American has a right to liberty, each American values security, and we debated that here for nearly 6 months, from August through today: If we are going to intercept communications from terrorists overseas calling into this country, under what conditions may we do that and still respect our traditions of liberty? Security versus liberty. Differences of opinion. The Judiciary Committee got in the middle of it. The Intelligence Committee was in the middle of it. In the end, the members of the Intelligence Committee produced a piece of legislation by a vote of 13 to 2, a bipartisan piece of work they believed respected liberty and security –- and after a good debate here on the floor of the Senate, nearly 70 Senators agreed. That is about as well as you can do in the Senate when you have a major difference of opinion. And off that went to the House of Representatives. Well, if what happened here was an example of what Americans like to see from their legislators, what happened in the House of Representatives is not what Americans like to see. What I think most Americans want to see in Washington is not that we always agree. I mean, this is a debating society. It is the Senate. The issues are here because we don't agree, in many cases. So we have these debates on liberty versus security, for example, and then we resolve them. We show that in the end we resolve them. That is what people like. Then it goes over to the House of Representatives. And let me put it in the words of some Tennessee folks last week. I was in Tennessee last week when the Senate was out of session, and the most frequently asked question, the most frequently made comment went something like this -- and I will paraphrase, but just a little bit: Senator Alexander -- someone in the back of the room at Ashland City might rise and say -- I have a question for you. How is it that the House of Representatives has time to investigate baseball, has time to play politics with the White House staff members, has time to take a 10-day vacation, but doesn't have time to deal with an intelligence bill? And I had to say to them: I am disappointed with what happened in the House of Representatives because it did so well with the economic stimulus package that I thought we were off to the kind of start the American people would have agreed with. So I believe most Americans understand that the failure to deal with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation means this: It means fewer surveillances. It means fewer companies and individuals willing to cooperate with our Government in overhearing conversations between those who would destroy us when they call in to our country to talk about it. And it means we are less safe as a result of that. My hope would be that we can deal with this Intelligence bill quickly and promptly. The House of Representatives is certainly capable of that. There are good men and women there. We recognized that when we basically adopted the House's economic stimulus package, with minor adjustments. Some Senators said: Well, the Senate ought to have a lot to say about that. Well, we -- most of us in the Senate -- are rarely guilty of an unexpressed thought, that is true, but it is not a bad idea for us also to recognize wisdom and good ideas when they come from the other part of the Capitol. We saw in the economic stimulus package some wise decision making and, for the most part, adopted it, with some amendments. My hope would be that the House of Representatives would do the same with the Senate's 68-vote decision on the Intelligence bill. My understanding is that there is a majority of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives today who agree with the Senate bill and who would vote for it if it were brought up. If they will do that, that would be very helpful. Madam President, the news came today that William F. Buckley died. For most Americans, that brings back a lot of memories. Since the early 1950s, he has been synonymous with public television. "God and Man at Yale" was an important book, even though he was a very young man when he wrote it. And William F. Buckley's style, his choice of words, his manner of speaking, and his unfailing courtesy have set an example for debaters of important issues in this country for more than half a century. In 1984, a couple of years after I had been a guest on "Firing Line," which was William Buckley's television show, I sat next to him at a dinner. It was a Howard Baker fundraising roast in Washington, DC. William Buckley was the master of ceremonies. I wrote about that visit in a little book I put out after I was Governor called "Steps Along the Way." "When do you write?" I asked him. "Anytime," he replied. "Books are about the only thing I write in a methodical way. I do them in Switzerland, after I ski, between about 5:30 and 7 p.m." I told him that when our family had visited Chartwell, Winston Churchill's former secretary said that Churchill sometimes dictated 5,000 words in a night. Buckley was surprised. "I can do 1,100 or so in a couple of hours," he said, "Sometimes more, maybe up to 2,800 words at a time, but 5,000 would be a very productive night. With the advent of computer technology I can know exactly what I do each time I write. For example, my last book took 112 hours." "When do you make corrections?" I asked him. "I do that in about thirty minutes the next morning, before I go skiing." "You mean that you finish off the last day's work so you can be ready to start when you return from skiing?" "That's right. Then I send the transcript to five friends. When the transcripts come back, I put the five edited versions side by side and decide what changes to make." "What about your columns?" I asked him. "How long do they take to write?" "You mean after I get them in mind?" He said. "Yes." "About twenty to thirty minutes. Westbrook Pegler once told me it took him eleven hours to do a column." "Do you make changes?" I asked him. "No." Said William Buckley. "I've been doing it for nineteen, no, twenty-two years. I know the rhythm, the internal consistency of the column. I have it down. I don't change it. That would be like asking a jazz pianist to change his improvisation." That was William Buckley in 1984. He was a pianist. He really preferred the harpsichord, the clavichord. He told me he played Bach because you played what you loved the most. He loved music. He loved talking. He loved people. He loved his family. He was, of course, a wonderful conservative leader. He changed the way many Americans thought about our Government and our society. And he always seemed to have the right thing to say. In 1996, after I had competed for the Presidency, I was at some dinner. He walked all of the way across the room. You never know what to say to someone who has lost an election. It is kind of like what do you say to someone at a funeral? But he walked all the way across his room and put his hand on my shoulder and said: That was a noble thing that you did. That has always struck me as the one of the nicest things anybody has said to me after having lost an election. So I will miss William Buckley. So will our country. So will the conservative movement. My family and I send our condolences to the Buckley family. We know they are proud of his life. They will miss him. I am glad to have these few minutes on the Senate floor to remember William F. Buckley's contribution to our public life.