Attorney General Installation
March 18, 2001, 2:30pm Attorney General's Remarks
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. Please be seated. Thank you.
Surely you know the temptation of a politician to bask in the adulation of one's friends. (Laughter.) I treasure your friendships, and I'm grateful for your presence here today.
I'm grateful for the fact that you have been committed and dedicated to helping me serve America over and over again, time after time, in setting after setting, in sickness and in health -- (laughter) -- in good times and in bad. And I am grateful to you for your prayers and for the fact that you understand that the time for praying has just begun.
I know that it was a famous naval captain who said, "We have just begun to fight," but I think we have just begun to serve, and we need to ask that the wisdom of the Almighty be in us and operative in that which we do and say, so that we might serve well.
I particularly want to thank my wife, Janet. Janet, would you just mind standing? (Applause.) I'm going to ask -- please remain standing. (Applause continues through introductions.) My daughter, Martha; my son Jay, my son Andrew; my son-in-law, Jimmy -- Jim and his son, my grandson, Jimmy. My brother Bob is here with me today somewhere, I think. Bob? Thank you very much. I'm grateful to you.
Jimmy has been a great part of my effort to become and to be a good attorney general, and today he was to have administered the last line. But the excitement of the ceremony has put him fast asleep -- (laughter) -- and so he will not have been the person to say, "So help me God," as I had hoped. But I asked a variety of people to administer the oath to symbolize the fact that we serve a variety of people in the United States of America. Some have said, "Well, children are just 25 percent of the culture; who cares about them?" They are 100 percent of our future. We must all care about them.
And the effort of the Justice Departments must be universal. It must be that no person's right is beyond the protection of the law and no person's conduct is beyond the reach of the law in an effort to secure for America the freedoms which we know are important to our survival and success.
Let me just say one other -- make one other personal note of recognition. My Uncle Phil is here, Seymour Phillips (sp).And Loretta, would you mind standing? My Uncle Phil served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation for years. (Applause.) He was the G-man in the facility. We always, in leaving the house and heading for the yard and childhood times of playing "cops and robbers," everybody wanted to be Uncle Phil. (Laughter.) Nobody wanted to be the robber, because we knew that Uncle Phil never failed to get his man. (Laughter.) And honored to have the opportunity. The first phone call I made from the attorney general's office here in the Department of Justice was to my Uncle Phil, and I'm honored that he's there -- here, and I'm honored to have an opportunity to stand in the tradition of justice.
The words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty are more a testimony to freedom than anything else. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Yes, it was a statement of welcome. It was a statement of confidence, but not so much, I believe, confidence just in the therapy of America, but confidence in the concept of freedom.
Throughout the Middle Ages, there were those pseudoscientists who sought a way to take base metal and to make it intopure gold. They were referred to as alchemists. They were those who looked for the single drug that would cure all ills, a kind of magic that would change that which was perhaps seen to be of less value into those things which were understood to be of the greatest value.
And in a sense, Emma Lazarus is saying that in freedom we find the alchemy of humanity; that somehow when people areadequately free, and their freedoms are respected and their freedoms are protected, that there is no limit to the heights to which people can rise, and there is no limit to the humanity that is eligible to rise to those heights.
I find it instructive that in her poetry she didn't say, "Give me your Ph.Ds. and your privileged and your favored, give me the upper crust and the upper class, and somehow we will welcome them, and we lift a lamp to attract them." I don't oppose attracting the brightest and best. Heavens knows we want to do that, and we need to do it. But the greatness of America is not that it can take the bright -- brightest and the best of humanity and somehow develop a capacity to surpass the achievements of any other culture. The greatness of America is found in her poetry, which tells us that even those who might be despised in other settings, when they encounter the chemistry of freedom, they find a way to become trendsetters, benchmarks, for the world and for the universe.
It's that understanding of what America is and what freedom means that must animate us in the process of justice, justice which must respect the freedoms of every American and must protect the freedoms of every American. It is in that context and framework that we developed a capacity to project the success which we have known into the next generation.
My Uncle Sam is here -- Sam and Tommy (sp), my Aunt Tommy (sp), Uncle Sam, a professor in -- at Vanderbilt and at the Peabody, Vanderbilt in Nashville, and now lives in Memphis, Tennessee. But the ability to help people reach the maximum of their capacity was always part and parcel of what Uncle Sam meant to the family. I remember when we went to Iowa to visit him, when he was the vice principal, I think it was, of the Iowa State School for the Blind. Uncle Sam's written a lot of books about Braille and helping people learn, to give them the capacity to reach the maximum of their potential, to understand that even those who aren't sighted have the ability to teach us and to lead us. And I'm honored that you're here with us today, Uncle Sam. I'm grateful.
Everybody needs an Uncle Sam besides the one that collect his taxes, and my Uncle Sam's here. (Laughter.) Would you stand up, Uncle Sam, and let us welcome you? And Aunt Tommy (sp), would you stand, too? (Applause.)
This understanding that freedom is the source of opportunity and it is the condition in which individuals reach the maximum of the potential that God has placed within them is what we protect. We need to make sure that freedom serves us as we are free from crime, but we also have to have the freedom to vote; we need to be free from confiscation, but we need the freedom to earn. We need to have freedom from oppression. We also have to have the freedom to speak. And if we have the freedom to fail, we'll have the incentive to make decisions that will propel us toward success. It is important, then, that the Department of Justice recognize that justice is related to freedom and is a guardian of freedom.
We all had the privilege of standing together at the outset of this program and reciting a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, which marries those two concepts in its last line when it says, "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty -- freedom -- and justice for all." I'm not sure you could have liberty without justice, and I don't think you could have justice without liberty. But if you put them together, you have the special condition of the community we know to be the United States of America. It is a community that has welcomed the wretched refuse of the teaming shore -- the tired, the poor, those yearning to breathe free. I love her poetry -- "breathe free" -- the idea that life itself is the expression of the capacity of individuals to shape and determine, to mold the outcomes in which we live; and that when we understand that fundamentally freedom is the capacity to build the tomorrows in which we live, to make decisions of consequence, and that when in fact our government places a high regard on that freedom, then we understand how to build tomorrow.
So I believe that we can measure success in our culture if we will ask ourselves, will we be freer when we pass from thisopportunity, or will we not? Will individuals have a greater capacity to devote themselves and with an expectation that their industry will be rewarded, or not? Will people be able to create ideas and express them with a sense that there is freedom to do that? That's a tremendous goal for us. And I hope that, whatever our tenure of service is, that we can say that freedom will have flourished in that time.
Our culture is a culture that is the envy of the world, but some from time to time raise concerns, and all of us need to be ever vigilant. Eternal vigilance is the price to be paid for liberty and freedom. But freedom can't be guaranteed by governments alone. You see, what happens in America is just as much determined what happens in our culture as it is what happens in our government. Some people have said that Main Street is more important than Wall Street. I happen to believe that's true - what happens in our homes, what happens in our lives, in our families and in our communities.
And if we want to be a nation where individuals reach the capacity that God has placed within them, if we want to be a nation where every person has the opportunity to max it out, I think we have to be more than individuals that expect for freedom to be guarded by government. We have to be participants, as well. That's why I asked that we have the responsivereading, which I was so pleased that we participated in today. Perhaps one way of saying it is to think about the old nursery rhyme. You'll get an understanding of just how intellectual I am if you stay around long enough; I'll reveal my deepest thoughts to you. (Laughter.) But the nursery rhyme goes like this: "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
General Barr, that's really impressive, isn't it?
I -- what I really want to say is that when we have problems, when we have challenges, all the king's horses and all the king's men probably can't get it done. It takes more than the king's horses and the king's men. It takes more than thegovernmental people. It takes more than the law enforcement community. It takes our culture to rally to these values. And inour homes, we have to be willing to extend respect and love, one citizen to another. In our -- in the streets, we have to be able to identify those things which impair the freedom of others and the access of others to the opportunities. In our jobs, in our churches, in our synagogues, in our mosques, we have to be willing to say, "We'll stand up for justice and freedom, and not just expect government to do it alone." For freedom is too important and valuable a condition to relegate to governmentalone; it has to be something that we share. All the king's horse and all the king's men can't get it done. But if we enlist the aid of this great culture, of these great families, of our great churches and places of worship, we can indeed advance the opportunities that find their way into the lives of every single American when we work together.
I want to thank the members of the Cabinet and the members of the Senate who have come here today, and the White House counsel, with whom I work. I'm grateful for you.
Working together gives us an opportunity to achieve those things which we could never get done alone. The king's men, the governmental resources, can work hard, but they'll never succeed without the willing and eager participation of the culture.And the culture must demand of government that the genius of America be found again in the expression of the values and work and industry of the culture in government and in the halls of Washington.
I close with this little story:
Last year sometime, having about sung my welcome out in the state of Missouri, I was invited to sing at a congregation in North Carolina. It was one of these congregations that's a pretty aggressive group. They have an 8:30 service in the morning and a 9 -- 10:00 service. No, it was 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. I think that's what it was -- and went to sing there, and I said to my friend who was with me, "I'm not going to be able to sing three services this morning. I'm going to need some help.
So midway through the service, I'm going to look down in the audience and call on you and ask you to come help me because I can't get this done alone."
Being the individual who invited me to go to this particular setting, he said, "Okay, I'll help you." So after I had sung a couple of the songs that I was going to sing, I looked down into the audience and said, "Dick, it's a pleasure to see you in the audience today. Would you mind coming up and helping me on this next song?" Dick and I have been friends since we were eight years old, and you can tell that's a long time. And Dick wanted to add a little spice to the meeting, so instead of rising to his feet and coming to help me, he squirmed in his chair and acted like I hadn't cleared this with him in advance. (Laughter.)
More intently, I said, "Dick, I implore you, I need help. Would you mind coming to help me sing this next song?" Having been so successful in creating discomfort in his friend on the first squirm, he decided to squirm a second time, when much tomy surprise, at the periphery of the auditorium, over on the far right, unbeknownst to Dick or me, a fellow leapt to his feet and said, "I will!" -- (laughter) -- and started down the aisle to the podium.
When he got about 20 yards from me it became apparent to me that this was an individual who was challenged. He had Down's syndrome. And he came up and he wrapped his arms around me on the platform of that church before that congregation, and let me just tell you, if you haven't had a hug from someone with Down's syndrome lately, you ought to get one. They have a special gift of affection. And I thought, "This is the reason I've come to North Carolina this morning. I'm learning something very important." Because when he leapt to his feet and said, "I will," he spoke the five most important letters in the English language -- I W-I-L-L.
You see, he didn't sit in his chair and say, "There's a thousand seats in this auditorium. Somebody else ought to go help that poor guy up there." He didn't say to himself, "I'm not the brightest guy in the world, I don't think I should go. I'm really not a trained vocalist. I'm not going to go help him." No, he spoke profoundly what I believe the American spirit is all about, it's the willingness to help; the understanding that no one does anything alone, that we all are in this together. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee, for no one is an island.
And when he simply said, "I will," he taught a senator and a future attorney general a lesson, and I hope it's a lesson that we can all count on each other to learn as we seek justice by protecting freedom and encouraging opportunity; making sure that there's safety and security for the citizens, that none of us will get it done alone.
And none of us is eligible to sit on the sidelines and say someone else ought to help and it's someone else's turn. Each of us needs to express his profound commitment to the kind of opportunity that is one which we simply have to be grateful for. So when America needs more respect and honor and love between the races, we need to leap to our feet just like that young man did that day, say, "I will" and head for the front of the line. When we need for people to demand that our streets be safe and that they be clean and that our property be secured and that we respect the integrity of individuals and their possessions, we need to be on our feet with our hand in the air saying, "I will." Not just the king's men, but the entirety of our community,because when we join together in achieving that objective, we know that there will be liberty and justice for all. And when there is liberty and justice for all, every American can march forward to inherit a dream of greatness that has been understood since the very beginning of this great land.
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)