[Congressional Record Volume 144, Number 23 (Monday, March 9, 1998)]
[Pages S1567-S1568]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                       TRIBUTE TO MELVIN R. LAIRD

  Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, the Melvin R. Laird Center, a medical 
research facility, was recently dedicated in Marshfield, Wisconsin. The 
event brought together political notables from both parties, past and 
present. Former-President Gerald Ford delivered, what I believe, is one 
of his finest speeches of his long career of service to the public.
  Although Mel Laird may be best remembered for his service as 
Secretary of Defense during a turbulent period of the Vietnam war, when 
it was my privilege to serve in the Navy Secretariat, he devoted a full 
lifetime of public service in the course of improving quality of life 
in medical fields. This chapter of public service must be made 
permanent, so I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record 
President Ford's Remarks about this medical facility--an institution to 
which Mel Laird gave a full measure of devotion.
  There being no objection, the remarks were ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

    President Ford's Remarks, September 12, 1997, The Laird Center 

       Thank you, Bob, for that most generous introduction. What 
     an honor to participate in this special tribute to a very 
     special, extraordinary friend. I'm loath to refer to Mel as 
     an elder statesman--if only because of something Harry Truman 
     once said. Candid as ever, Mr. Truman defined a statesman as 
     a politician who has been dead for twenty years.
       Perhaps in this case it would be more accurate to say that 
     Mel has been out of active, visible politics for twenty 
     years. But that hasn't prevented Henry Kissinger, Bob Michel, 
     John Rhodes, Governor Nelson, Larry Eagleburger, or David 
     Broder from assembling here to honor Mel for his outstanding 
     service in the U.S. Navy and the Wisconsin legislature--on 
     Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon. In the words of Readers 
     Digest, I regard Mel Laird as one of the most unforgettable 
     characters I have ever met!
       I've just come from a private tour of the new Laird Center, 
     which enabled me to see firsthand the pioneering application 
     of molecular genetics to the field of preventive medicine. 
     Needless to say, Mel, you should be very, very proud of this 
     state of the art facility that bears your name. The Center is 
     a magnificent tribute in brick and mortar. But it is much 
     more than that. It is also a dynamic institution whose 
     greatest benefits will accrue to generations yet unborn.
       I can't help but reflect, Mel, on how proud John Fogerty, 
     your partner in providing health are funds in the annual 
     Labor, Health, Education and Welfare Appropriations Bill, 
     would be--both of you and of the Center here in Marshfield.
       As you all know, age has its privileges, among them the 
     chance to wax nostalgic from time to time. I can hardly 
     believe that over forty years have passed since our first 
     meeting, Mel. It was January 3, 1953, the day you were sworn 
     in as a freshman in the House of Representatives.
       I can't honestly say that I was surprised at your swearing 
     in by Speaker Sam Rayburn in the House Chamber. Several 
     months earlier, members of the Wisconsin delegation had 
     tipped me off to an outstanding State Senator from the 
     Marshfield area whom they were convinced would be elected to 
     the House in November 1952.
       Come Election Day their prophecy was emphatically confirmed 
     by voters. For Mel it was the first of nine such triumphs at 
     the polls. Over the next sixteen years he more than lived up 
     to his advance billings. From the outset, Marshfield's 
     favorite son was a highly effective member of the House 
     Committee on Appropriations. As the senior Republican on the 
     HEW Subcommittee, he won the respect and confidence of 
     members on both sides of the political aisle.
       Long before today's talk of a health crisis in America, Mel 
     Laird was legislating in hopes of averting a crisis. Having 
     served with John and Mel on the House Committee on 
     Appropriations, I think it's no exaggeration to call the 
     period from 1953 through 1969 the Fogerty/Laird Years. 
     Certainly their influence on the NIH was pivotal as they 
     oversaw a vast expansion of American health research programs 
     and facilities. At least five Secretaries of HEW know of 
     Mel's constructive impact on rural health care delivery 
     systems. They know, because he brought them to Marshfield 
     to see for themselves the Clinic's tremendous programs for 
     a major area in Wisconsin.
       Of course, there were times during those years when the 
     Republican elephant itself required a little emergency care. 
     It will come as no surprise to his friends and neighbors that 
     Mel was always intensely interested in electing a Republican 
     majority in the House of Representatives. To tell the truth, 
     I was just as interested in electing a Republican Speaker. 
     So, in the late 1950s, when a group of so-called ``Young 
     Turks'' joined forces to overthrow Joe Martin in favor of 
     Congressman Charlie Halleck of Indiana, Mel and I were all 
     for the change.
       In the wake of the Goldwater debacle of 1964, history 
     repeated itself. Only this time around, these by now ``Middle 
     Aged Turks'' were looking for a candidate to challenge 
     Halleck. Mel urged me to run, and thanks in no small part to 
     his efforts, I won that election by the landslide margin of 
     73/67. Mel became GOP Conference Chairman. For the next four 
     years we worked in tandem on legislative programs that helped 
     revitalize the Republican party and elect Dick Nixon 
     President in 1968.
       I well remember a day in December 1968 when we found 
     ourselves in Palm Springs, California, attending a Republican 
     Governors' Conference. Walter Annenberg hosted a luncheon 
     honoring the President-elect, at which Henry Kissinger was 
     present as the new head of the NSC. Between the main course 
     and dessert Nixon announced that Walter would become his 
     Ambassador to Great Britain and Mel Laird was to be Secretary 
     of Defense.
       Mel's friends were overjoyed by his selection. Knowing of 
     his impressive military record in the Navy in WWII and his 
     subsequent service as one of Capitol Hill's genuine defense 
     experts; admiring his uncommon common sense and his sound 
     political judgment, I believed that Mel would be of enormous 
     help to President Nixon as he struggled to find a responsible 
     solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. No less important, I felt 
     certain that Mel and Henry could jointly resolve that 
     terribly difficult issue. Nixon was fortunate to have them on 
     his team.
       They can tell you, far better than I, just how the Paris 
     Accord was achieved, followed by the withdrawal of American 
     forces from Vietnam. Let me say this: few public servants 
     have been so tested by events, or have so confirmed the 
     confidence of their admirers, as Mel Laird in those days of 
     tumult and challenge. After four arduous years at the 
     Pentagon he tried to retire. But by then he was Washington's 
     Indispensable Man. President Nixon immediately drafted him as 
     a Presidential Counselor for Domestic Affairs.
       In an era when the White House was tainted by scandal, Mel 
     Laird stood out as a model of personal and political 
     integrity. The resignation of Vice President Agnew in October 
     1973 touched off speculation over who Nixon might choose to 
     replace him under the 25th Amendment. Two days after Agnew's 
     departure Betty and I were having a quiet dinner at our home 
     in Alexandria, Virginia, when the phone rang. It was Mel 
     calling from the White House. He told me that the Democrat 
     controlled House and Senate were unlikely to confirm 
     Rockefeller, Reagan or Connally. In fact, both Speaker Albert 
     and Senator Mike Mansfield were recommending my name as an 
       Mel asked whether I had any interest in the job. Frankly, 
     his question came like a bolt out of the blue. My ambition 
     was to be Speaker of the House, not Vice President. I told 
     Mel that I would consult with Betty and call him back. That 
     evening Betty and I agreed that 3\1/2\ years as Vice 
     President would be a nice way to end my quarter century in 
     Washington. I passed our decision onto Mel, and the rest, as 
     they say, is history.
       Of course, history doesn't stop for anyone. So let me 
     suggest another way we could all honor our friend. This 
     Center will perpetuate Mel's work in the health field. 
     Wouldn't it be great if our politics today could also reflect 
     his blend of principle and pragmatism? You might not guess it 
     from watching The McLaughlin Group, but at heart most 
     Americans are pragmatists. We want to make things work. We 
     value authenticity at least as much as ideology--especially 
     in this age when so much of what passes for American public 
     life seems unreal if not irrelevant.
       Mel will recall vividly the days when I used to play 
     straight man to Senator Everett

[[Page S1568]]

     Dirksen in what became known as the Ev and Jerry show. 
     Neither one of us was bashful about criticizing the 
     shortcomings of the Great Society. Yet our differences 
     with the Johnson White House, however sharp they might 
     seem at the time, were programmatic, not personal. We 
     might question the other side's ideas, but rarely its 
     motives and never its patriotism.
       Indeed, Everett Dirksen had a great line. ``I live by my 
     principles,'' he liked to say, ``and one of my principles is 
     flexibility.'' Perhaps to some who are disillusioned by 
     politicians whose only principle seems to be flexibility, 
     Dirksen's folk wisdom may appear a cynical contradiction in 
     terms. I didn't see it that way. As far as I'm concerned, 
     there are no enemies in politics--just adversaries who 
     disagree with you on this vote, and might be might you on the 
     next one.
       Moreover, I've always thought that you had to listen before 
     you could lead. It's pretty hard to listen to each other if 
     you're busy screaming at each other. It's even harder to hear 
     the voice of those who sent you to Washington in the first 
       If partisan political parties are out of favor with most 
     Americans, perhaps it's because they appear to have forgotten 
     that ours is a representative democracy. To many voters--and 
     even more non-voters--parties today are suspected of being 
     decidedly unrepresentative. At worst, they appear as little 
     more than conduits for huge amounts of special interest 
       But fundraising abuses are by no means the only cancer 
     eating away at our democracy. Today we look with horror upon 
     the smoke filled rooms of legend. Over the years, I've sat in 
     more than my share of smoked filled rooms. So has Mel. I 
     think it is fair to say, we've even inhaled from time to 
       I ask you: who is more accountable to the voters--those in 
     the smoke filled room whose jobs depended on keeping their 
     word--and who gave us Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman and 
     Eisenhower--or the professional hired guns of today whose 
     services are for sale, whose convictions are located in focus 
     groups, and whose loyalty may not outlast election day?
       Based on personal experience, our parties will never regain 
     public confidence until they look beyond the consultants and 
     the tracking polls. As President, facing a stiff challenge 
     from the right wing of my own party in 1976, I was urged to 
     abandon our efforts to promote black majority rule in what 
     was then Rhodesia. Did Henry Kissinger really have to choose 
     at the height of the Republican primary season to fly to 
     Africa and denounce the vestiges of colonial rule?
       The pre-primary Texas polls gave one answer, and individual 
     conscience a very different one. Kissinger went, I lost a few 
     primaries, and Rhodesia was set on the course of self-rule as 
     the independent nation of Zimbabwe.
       There are dangers that arise when any leader starts to 
     calculate his chances at the expense of his conscience. In 
     the high stakes game of history, only those who are willing 
     to lose for principle deserve to win at the polls. Only those 
     whose principles do not blind them to the search for common 
     ground, can hope to rally a political system that was 
     intentionally designed by the Founders to frustrate utopian 
       This much I know for sure: at the end of the day, no leader 
     worth his salt will take comfort in the polls he conducted or 
     the tactical victories he may have racked up. Anyone can take 
     a poll. Only a leader can move a nation.
       All his life, Mel Laird has given that kind of leadership--
     to Wisconsin, to America, to the world. As a result, no 
     historian tracing the evolution of this country during the 
     second half of the twentieth century will be able to overlook 
     the life and legacy of the man from Marshfield. He remains 
     today what he has always been--a model public servant, a can-
     do conservative who went into politics because he liked 
     people even more than he distrusted bureaucrats. A man who 
     reflects honor upon Washington and the people who sent him 
     there. A patriot before he is a partisan.
       Thank you, old friend, for all you have done for the 
     Fords--for all you have been to Wisconsin--for all you have 
     given to America. We are all better for having known you.