John Kerry's Farewell Address, in Numbers
The numbers in John Kerry's farewell speech to the Senate delivered yesterday suggested the scale both of the address and the career that preceded it. Most amusing to those inclined to rib Kerry for being long-winded is the speech's length: 7,450 words or about 50 minutes.
Kerry mentions plenty of numbers in the text of the speech itself, too: the number of times he's won election (five), the number of Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 (61 million), the number of staffers he's employed (561), and the interns (1,393), the number of women serving in the Senate when he arrived (one), and the number serving now (20).
In the wake of the speech, there were the inevitable blog posts that pulled out the most dramatic bits for those only passingly interested in what Kerry had to say. The Huffington Post helpfully pulled out a clip of Kerry choking up while making mention of his desk, which once belonged to President Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy after that, with the headline “John Kerry Tears Up During Farewell Address (VIDEO).” (Don't ever change, HuffPost.) Buzzfeed translated his speech into millennial-speak: “John Kerry Literally Thanks Everyone During His Senate Farewell Address.” Our interests here being what they are, we'll pull out the shout-out he gave to our state:
What a remarkable gift it has been to carry the banner of Senator from Massachusetts, a banner passed from the sons of the American Revolution like Daniel Webster to the sons of immigrants like Paul Tsongas, and to know that a state where the abolitionists crusaded at Faneuil Hall and the suffragettes marched in Quincy Market could send to Washington sons like Ted Kennedy and Ed Brooke who fought to expand civil rights – and now a woman, Elizabeth Warren, who proved that in Massachusetts the glass ceiling has finally been forever shattered.
But excerpts aside, there's actually some fun to be had reading the whole speech. Farewell addresses offer politicians a unique opportunity to speak more candidly, without the posturing that usually comes from needing to get along with colleagues or get elected by constituents. Kerry's a bit more constrained than was, say, Dwight Eisenhower, as he's only leaving elected office to go join the president's administration. But he talked about a lot of things, and the weight of the speech focused on the question of whether the Senate is structurally irreperable or whether the Senators themselves are just being a pain in the butt. His answer is likely to annoy his Democratic friends who just tried to argue that the Senate's rules needed major changes, because he comes down on the side of blaming the Senators, not the Senate. “Frankly, the problems we live through today come from individual choices made by Senators themselves—not the rules.” He outlines his argument here:
So what effort do we need to put our reason and spirit into? I believe there are three challenges that have conspired to bring about a dangerous but reversible erosion in the quality of our democracy: the decline of comity, the deluge of money and the disregard for facts.
He addresses all three problems at length, and surrounds this argument in a longer history of the Senate and, as Buzzfeed so eloquently pointed out, a lot of thank yous to a lot of people. But if you've got time and you, like present company, are a nerd, give it a watch or a read. Oh, also, he totally cries at one point, so yeah, there's something in there for everyone.