The recent documentary about Hubert Humphrey is inspirational and disheartening at the same time.
One is inspired to be reminded of the extraordinary life and talents of Senator and Vice President Humphrey. He entered the national political scene at the Democratic National Convention in 1948 as the Mayor of Minneapolis in his passionate and inspirational speech calling for his Party to enter “the bright sunshine of human rights.” After election to the U.S. Senate that same year, he continued to press for liberal, progressive legislation in his unique, spirited, passionate and committed way.
Humphrey talked about his drawing sustenance, as do I, from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (Emphasis added.)
Humphrey stressed that the emphasized verbs of the Preamble were all calls for an active government, an observation that had escaped me. “We the People” through our federal Government are called upon to form, establish, insure, provide, promote and secure the previously stated goals or objectives. This calling is never finished as the words “a more perfect Union” emphasize. (I often had thought that this was an inapt phrase as something is either perfect or it is not; there cannot be degrees of perfection. Now, however, I see a larger purpose behind the phrase.)
The documentary also tells the story of Humphrey’s shepherding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the U.S. Senate and leading the battle and ultimate defeat of the southern Senators’ filibustering of the bill. (At the time, cloture of debate required 67 votes, not the 60 needed today.) Part of this skillful legislative leadership was compromising to gain support for the bill from Republican Senators, most notably Everett Dirksen of Illinois, and by yielding to Dirksen important roles in advocating for the bill.
Humphrey demonstrated in this instance and in the rest of his Senate career that persistence and compromise were both needed to advance the causes in which you believed. Your opponent today might be your ally tomorrow. Today you might not obtain all that you want in a particular piece of legislation, but there are always tomorrows to work on the unfinished business.
I also found the documentary disheartening. Today we the People desperately need another passionate, committed advocate for a strong, active federal government. We also need legislators in the Congress who welcome compromise as an important and necessary ingredient for advancing the public’s business. In the current political turmoil about raising the national debt limit, I do not see such leaders.