On July 8, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Congressional Distinguished Service Award ceremony. Bob Michel was one of four former members of Congress recognized for their outstanding service to the institution, and I was tapped by Speaker Hastert to share a few words in praise of the Congressman who served the Peoria area and the nation so well for almost four decades.
A few years ago, Speaker Hastert and former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt originated this award with the idea that we should honor former members who exemplified the best traditions of the U.S. House. The four honorees at this ceremony-Bob Michel, Don Edwards, John Rhodes, and Louis Stokes-represented both ends of the political spectrum. When it came to the issues of civility, decorum, or respect, however, each one of these members carried out the business of the House in the highest possible manner. Each of these former Congressmen could serve as a role model for today’s members, as well as for anyone who would seek to serve in this great institution in the future.
In honor of our great friend, Bob Michel, I would like to share my remarks from the ceremony: "I have had the honor to know Bob Michel for over 20 years. So I know there are three things he dislikes. The first is to miss a three-foot putt at Burning Tree. The second is to see his Cubs lose a game they should have won. And the third-worst of all-is to sit quietly while a former staffer sings his praises in public. So, Bob, I ask you to bear with me this morning. I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.
"We all know Bob as a great legislator, a combat veteran, a great singer, a patriot, and as a man devoted to his beloved Corinne and to his great family. But today I want to speak of Bob in another capacity. I want to speak about Bob Michel the teacher.
"I consider myself a graduate of The Robert H. Michel School of Applied Political Arts and Sciences. His classrooms were his office, the floor of the House, its committee rooms, and the farms and towns of the 18th District. Everywhere he went, he taught his staff by his example what it means to be a great public servant.
"President John Adams once said the Constitution is the product of ’good heads prompted by good hearts.’ Bob Michel taught us that both of these qualities-head and heart- are necessary in order to make this institution work.
"Bob taught us by his example that the House floor should be a forum for reasoned debate among colleagues equal in dignity. He inherited an old-fashioned Peoria work ethic from his beloved parents. So he came to the House every day to do the work of the people, and not to engage in ideological melodramas or political vendettas. And he expected-in fact he demanded-all his staff to do the same.
"Bob knew warfare at first hand-not war in a Steven Spielberg movie or war fought in the pages of books, but real war. I guess that is the reason he never used macho phrases like ’warfare’ and ’take no prisoners’ when discussing politics with his staff. To Bob, the harsh, personal rhetoric of ideological warfare had no place in his office, no place in the House, and no place in American politics. He knew that the rhetoric we use often shapes the political actions we take.
"Bob Michel was a superb Republican leader and he would have made a great Speaker of the House. But fate decreed that this was not to be. So, Bob, today I want you to know that you are, in the opinion of many, the greatest Speaker this House never had.
"Bob, in a sense you have never left this place you love so well. Whenever there is a debate on the House Floor, conducted by men and women with good heads and good hearts, treating each other with mutual respect, you are there among us, and will be so long as the House endures. You were a great Congressman, and you remain, as ever, a great teacher." IBI