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Remarks Honoring Representative Bob Michel

September 20, 1994

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Please be seated; relax. Dr. Brazil, Speaker Foley, Congressman Gingrich, distinguished Members of the House, Senator Dole and Senator Mitchell are here or will be, and other Members of the Congress who are here, to Bob and Corinne and ladies and gentlemen.

It occurs to me that after 19 terms in the House, 13 years as minority leader, it's a real shame for a man with Bob Michel's distinguished reputation to have it destroyed at the end by having a Democratic President brag on him. [Laughter] I asked him if he didn't have some really crazy and sort of kooky-sounding criticism I could lob so you would all stand up and cheer for him, but he said I could just say what was on my mind and heart.

You know, you never know what's on a person's mind and heart. I understand we now have the sayings of Mr. Michel in a little red book, which will doubtless get ideologically vetted. I expect Mr. Gingrich to have it reprinted in blue within a day or two. [Laughter]

I want to say that it's a real honor for me to be here tonight. And I say in all sincerity, I'm going to miss Bob Michel. I know in theory he's reached an age where he's earned retirement, but I have found him remarkably young and vigorous. He's as addicted to golf as I am. He's survived at least one car wreck since I've been here and a lot of other wrecks in the Congress that could do more damage to you inside. He still sings like he did 30 years ago. I leave it to your own interpretation what that means—[laughter]—beautifully, as you know. He's spent his whole life serving this country, from being a genuine hero when he wore our uniform in the Second World War to being a genuine patriot in the United States Congress.

It was a great honor for me just a few days ago to exercise one of the few things I can do without the approval of Congress when I awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I shouldn't have said that. I saw Congressman Gingrich raise his eyebrow. He's going to make a note, "Surely we can restrain his discretion there." [Laughter]

You know, when I was a kid growing up in Arkansas, even there, even there in the fifties, the saying about how will it play in Peoria was alive and well. And after I got to—and, of course, I married a woman from Illinois, so I used to hear it about every 3 days when I was about to do something my wife thought was nonsensical. But after I got to know Bob Michel, I understood the genesis of the saying, because in a very real sense he represents in my view the heart of America, the values of America, and the sense of fairness of America.

I enjoyed working with him when we fought against enormous odds with most of you here to pass the NAFTA agreement. I enjoyed it when we were on opposite sides and he thought I was absolutely wrong but was still fair and decent. I even enjoyed it when we were on opposite sides when he was sympathetic with what I was trying to do but couldn't quite get there. Those are three things that often happen in the course of people's relationships in this town. And I can tell all of you who come from his hometown and his home district that he is just as highly thought of here as he is there. And we will miss him.

We had a joint leadership meeting this morning, and we talked about, obviously, the issue of Haiti and then what we would do between now and the end of the Congress. By the time the meeting was over, I can tell you this: I wasn't sure where everybody in the room was on every outstanding issue, but I knew where he was on the issues that really counted. And I think we'll always know where he is, trying to do what's right for this country in a way that is right for this country.

And let me just close with that. This is a time in which the negative often outweighs the positive, in which people are so overwhelmed with things that are discouraging, from the news to the political campaigns, that very often all half-full glasses are seen as half-empty. I think in the end, the thing that enabled Bob Michel to succeed as the leader of his party in Congress, to keep his good humor, to keep his character, to keep his integrity, and to earn the respect of those who are in different camps on different issues and even in different parties was the fact that he believed that America was a place where the glass should always be halffull and where we could do the right thing, move forward to a brighter tomorrow, and fulfill our obligations in an atmosphere of mutual respect even when we differ.

It is the genius which has taken the theory of the Constitution and made it real in the life of this country. And it's why we're still around here after more than 200 years, because of people like Bob Michel.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:13 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to John Brazil, president, Bradley University, and sponsor of the dinner; and Corinne Michel, wife of Representative Michel.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Honoring Representative Bob Michel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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