“Upholding the Oath”

Remarks by Wyden on Receiving Panetta Institute Jefferson-Lincoln Award for Public Service

"I have had the honor of representing Oregon in the Congress--in both the House and Senate--since the days when I had a full head of hair and rugged good looks. To me, even now, it remains heartening and amazing that this country afforded so much opportunity to me --the son of German immigrants who fled the Nazis and lost family at Kristallnacht and Theresienstadt.

My father arrived with little more than his wits and dreams. The path both my parents took led them to serve America in World War II. They started a family here and my father found success as a journalist and my mother as an economist. That path led me to commit to public service, and eventually, to join all of you tonight.

It is my firm belief this unbroken path could succeed only in this one country, the United States of America.

America, where everyone in government, from Senators and Congresspeople to every civil servants, are bound by the rule of law and the Constitution.

This obligation is embodied in the oath each of these individuals take--it is the same for all of us-- to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Tonight, I would like to suggest that bipartisanship, crossing the aisle, being willing to have a conversation with someone who may disagree with you is not just a good idea, it is part of that oath I take as a public servant.For example, rejecting an idea just because it comes from the other side is not just foolish it means putting party ahead of the oath.

So you might ask now, what is this bipartisanship this fellow is talking about? First, bipartisanship should never be about just sitting down with someone from the other side, taking each other's bad ideas and rolling them together. It should be about getting together, digging into a variety of ideas for best addressing a big challenge our country faces, and not caring what ideological label is attached to them.

That's why next week and in the months ahead, I intend to work with members of Congress from across the political spectrum to fix the rotting economic carcass we call the American tax code, protect the Medicare guarantee so as to affordably address the great new challenge for Medicare which is chronic disease, and advance our cherished Constitutional principles with the Ben Franklin adage that anyone who gives up their liberty for a bit of temporary security, deserves neither.

There is one more point I would like to make tonight about our Constitution and public service. I believe the oath public servants take requires constant vigilance against the sort of wrongdoing that has previously bent our American system of government almost to its breaking point--for example, with the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II not very far from here. In those moments, when government actions are taken against "the other", the citizen who is not like us, or does not believe the same things we believe, or is fighting to reveal wrongdoing in our government, we see the consequences of failed oaths and how those failures chip away at our system, piece by piece by piece.

The good news is our system has responded to those moments and mistakes as our Founding Fathers intended.

Americans with differing political philosophies took a look back at the government's misguided actions -- and painful as they frequently were - worked to correct them. The fight against policies born out of prejudice and paranoia continues to this day.

I believe the best tradition of public service is the defense of our Constitution and the oath that public servants take to protect it. That oath undergirds the bipartisanship that is so necessary to solve the big challenges in Washington and helps guard against those who would trample the Constitution in service of a lesser cause. I believe that oath is about exactly the values this award represents and it is why I am very grateful for this honor and privilege. Thank you again."