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Department of State Remarks at the Swearing In of Edmund S. Muskie as Secretary.

May 08, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. It's been a long time since I've seen this much excitement and happiness and gratitude in this room. And it's because, when our Nation is faced with difficult challenges and great opportunities down through history, we've always had a man to come on the scene at the right time.

This afternoon Warren Christopher and I were sitting in the Oval Office going over this day's events. We were talking about the Soviets and their 85,000 troops in Afghanistan. We were talking about the hostages in Iran. We were talking about the would-be assassins who are now hiding in the Libyan Embassy and what to do about them. We were talking about the flood of people who are coming here from Cuba and from Haiti seeking freedom and a better life. We were talking about the sensitive United Nations Security Council vote this afternoon that Don McHenry was trying to handle under difficult circumstances.

We just received a report from Sol Linowitz, who's coming back from the Mideast peace negotiations. I had just finished talking to Pierre Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, about the maritime agreement and the fisheries agreement that Ed's going to now get through the Senate and have it ratified. [Laughter]

We were discussing the situation with Argentina and other nations who may be tempted to sell additional grain to the Soviet Union to replace that that we are not going to sell. We were talking about the possibility or the difficulty of getting Latin American nations to join us in the Olympics boycott. We were talking about Belgium and the formation of a new government, and how the NATO countries are facing the difficult question of adhering to their commitment to go ahead with theater nuclear force.

And Warren Christopher said, "Ed Muskie is the man, and today is the time." [Laughter]

As all of you know from your own family history, this is a nation of immigrants. Ours is a nation of refugees. And the forging of that diversity in this country under freedom has been the source of our tremendous unswerving strength.

Ours is a nation that doesn't just endure trials and testing. Ours is a nation that prevails, that triumphs over diversity, and which almost invariably benefits and makes progress when the world is faced with sometimes disconcerting and uncontrollable change. Ours is a nation that has been able to meet every test, no matter how 'difficult it might have been or how complex the circumstances, through unity and the courage of our people.

And as much as anyone that I know, this national character of which we are all so proud is personified by Ed Muskie. He's a man with a long career of service, as Governor in the State of Maine, as a United States Senator representing his beloved State. He's a man of vision. He's a man of reason. He's a man of conscience. Because of his diverse background in politics, he's also a man of great sensitivity and great knowledge about our Nation and our people.

We are indeed fortunate to have Ed Muskie as our new Secretary of State. He is, in the finest sense of the word, a patriot who is committed to the preservation of our Nation's strength and the enhancement of peace throughout the world. I'm grateful, as President, to have him occupy the highest position in my Cabinet, and I know the entire Nation is grateful to him also, to have him assume this new step in a notable career of service to his country.

We'll now witness the swearing in of Senator Ed Muskie as the new Secretary of State by Judge Coffin.

[At this point, Chief Judge Frank M. Coffin of the First Circuit administered the oath of office.]

SECRETARY MUSKIE. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President. I neglected to do so the other day. I was not sure it was appropriate. [Laughter] I am now certain.

You ought to get the significance of Frank Coffin performing the ceremony. Frank Coffin talked me into something I wasn't sure I wanted to do in 1954 when he persuaded me to run for the office of Governor of Maine. It seemed a hopeless challenge. No one had any idea I could win, but I did. And so, the appropriateness of recalling that history seemed almost unavoidable here today.

With respect to the assignment which the President has given me, I am grateful for it in a personal sense, because I find, as I look back upon the years I have been in politics, I've found that growth has come under the pressure of the greatest challenges, and I can't imagine a greater one available to me at this time than the challenge that the President has placed in my hands.

Oh, I could deal with it facetiously. I'm not sure I'm comfortable that you and I will be making mistakes together, Mr. President. [Laughter] And then it's sort of conventional for Members of the Senate and the House, when they speak of foreign policy, to say that they wish they could be in on the takeoffs as well as the landings. [Laughter] I'm not really sure that they believe that. [Laughter] But in any case, I now will be, and I hope the landings are comfortable.

If there is a resource which I bring to this office and to this challenge, it is the great good will which, to me, I so unexpectedly have been accorded in my beloved Senate, in the Congress as a whole, and throughout the country. I'm not entirely sure why, and I'm not inclined to inquire too closely. But at least I have it. And I can't think of anything better than that kind of backup to face the day-to-day challenges that I will face and that I will be asked to resolve.

If there is another resource which I bring to this office, it is that my father, who came to this country at the turn of the century, taught me to believe in it and what it represents and the hope it holds out for people all around this planet. I've never lost that faith, which he carried to his grave, incidentally, a year after I had been elected Governor of my State. And I can't imagine a man whose dreams could have been fulfilled more effectively, And so, I bring that, too.

I bring with me also, as I reminded my colleagues in the Senate yesterday, the kind of testing which a man's ideas and proposals and policies must meet in a body like the Senate of the United States and in an institution like the Congress of the United States. I've served there 22 years, and if I have been accorded this good will—and I have—it is because I have had to earn it. I'm just surprised that I have. But in any case, when one considers the qualifications one ought to bring to the office of Secretary of State and one thinks of the challenge of articulating our people's hopes, our country's policies to set our direction, surely that's an important qualification. Whether I have it-you will test me in the months ahead.

The second is the quality of accommodating ideas. The one great shortcoming that I find in our political system today is bound up in one word that we lawyers use more than anyone else, and that is the word "comity," the ability to understand the other fellow's point of view and the ability to convey one's own point of view, understanding that one man's freedom ends where another man's rights begin. And it is that kind of comity between the elements of our political institutions, between the governors and the governed, between the public sector and the private sector, that has made this system workable for all these years.

All of you know that I'm not an expert in foreign policy, but if foreign policy means the relationships between governments and countries and peoples which must be adjusted in some fashion to minimize the prospect for violence and maximize the prospects for peace, that kind of exposure has been my life. I may not know all the techniques, but I'll learn them. I may not know all of the diplomacy, and I'm not sure that I want to. [Laughter]

But I have learned this above all in my life as a Senator and as a politician: If you believe in something, speak up. And that I intend to do. And as I learned in that great campaign with Hubert Humphrey, if you don't like what I say, you will find ways to let me know. [Laughter] But if you believe in what I say, and I have said it clearly, you will give me and the President and our administration support. And that's the way it's got to be.

But there's got to be clarity; there's got to be certainty; there's got to be a clear sense of direction; there's got to be a sharing of values; and there's got to be an understanding that if one is to accommodate one's views to the world in which we live, there must be trade-offs, there must be a balancing of interests. No one on this planet can have his or her way all the time, and that's the nature of the legislative process.

Well, I'm threatening, Mr. President, to mount a filibuster, and perhaps that's one way to delay my exposure to the problems which we have. [Laughter] But if you think that your list of problems was formidable, you ought to listen to Bob Byrd when he has a leadership meeting in the Senate. [Laughter] And one of the things that makes your list of problems attractive to me is the knowledge that I've left a very unpleasant list of problems behind me in the Senate. [Laughter]

So with that, may I, through you and the media, express my deep gratitude, for myself and my family, for this great opportunity that you're giving us. No opportunity has ever been greater than that of service. The first speech I made, in 1954, in the campaign undertaken to build a competitive Democratic Party and hopefully to win an election, I said this: that the success of a political party is not an end in itself, it is simply a means of service, to our State and to our country.

And I say the same about this kind of an appointment. I'm going to relish it, not because it's going to be fun, but because it's going to be stimulating and potentially productive of good fruit for all of us.

And may I close with just this last word. I enter upon this challenge with hope and optimism. Thank you all and God bless you.

We have now created a triumvirate. We've brought the Good Lord in on it.

THE PRESIDENT. Ed and Jane will be outside, and they'd like very much to let you know how much they appreciate your being here.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:11 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Department of State Remarks at the Swearing In of Edmund S. Muskie as Secretary. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250145

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