Remarks at the 39th Annual Publius Awards Dinner
It is indeed an honor to receive your distinguished award, particularly surrounded by so many of my friends and associates. The letters you have read to me and to this audience of leaders, friends and associates were particularly welcome. My family and I are immensely pleased, although I must confess that the thought of receiving this lifetime award so early in my life appears to me a bit premature.
For me, our event this evening is in honor of David Abshire, our cherished friend and leader. Wherever he may serve—soldier, educator, ambassador—his energies have been dedicated to advancing the virtues and strengths of our democracy—grace, civility, dignity, principle, patriotism. David, you are appreciated and respected by all of us and by our country.
I am pleased that David arranged for me to share the platform a few minutes ago with Jeane Kirkpatrick and Zbigniew Brzezinski, both distinguished scholars and respected public servants of distinction and both special friends.
The names Kirkpatrick and Brzezinski have a special significance in my life. The end of the war (World War II and not the Civil War) found me discharged from National Service at the University of Minnesota. I was invited to join the faculty of Political Science as I pursued my studies for a doctorate in political science. My teacher and faculty advisor who developed and helped make this arrangement was Dr. Evron Kirkpatrick. It was Evron Kirkpatrick who also introduced me to his friend Mayor of Minneapolis Hubert Humphrey, who later brought Maggie and me to Washington and became an integral part of my life. Some years later, I vividly recall Kirk introducing Maggie and me to his bride, the lovely lady and superb intellect, Jeane. The name Kirkpatrick is a treasured one in my life. Our lives have intertwined over the years, and Jeane remains a part of our family.
The name Brzezinski originally came to my attention as a scholar. It was the name of an international affairs professor on the Columbia University faculty who became an advisor to my friend and boss, Hubert Humphrey. Zbig and I became friends and remain friends and colleagues even after he rose in fame and power as National Security Adviser to President Carter. In late 1979, now in public life as a practicing attorney, I received a phone call from Vice President Walter Mondale, a fellow Minnesotan, informing me that at a breakfast foreign affairs meeting at the White House that morning, my name had been proposed to President Carter to serve as Ambassador and Chairman of the American delegation at a European Conference on Security and Cooperation under the Helsinki Final Act. My name, I later learned, was proposed to the President by Dr. Brzezinski. I was not at all interested in a government position, but since the assignment was to last for only three months, I accepted the opportunity. My diplomatic life was extended by President Reagan—well beyond the three months and lasted for more than ten exciting and fulfilling years. You can understand why the name Brzezinski is a treasured one in my life.
Now a brief word to the young men and women of scholarship we are here to honor tonight. The challenges facing our nation today are awesome and will depend a great deal on your ability to manage and deal with them. We are today a nation and people exposed to great danger. Our institutions are capable of meeting the challenges, but I question the behavior and responsibility of many we have chosen to govern us. We appear to be blind to the dangers ahead as we concentrate on our traditional political differences at the expense of our capacity to rise above these differences in the face of serious and possibly imminent danger.
This is why your presence here tonight is so crucial. The generations ahead of you appear to be too blind or too weary to rise to the challenge, although David Abshire and others here tonight will continue to shame some reality and virtue and patriotism into the consciousness of those who govern today. There is strength in unity; there is weakness in division.
I conclude now by saying that whether life brings you to our nation’s capital, or to your state capital, or to your city hall, or college campus, or to Main Street or to Wall Street—whether you choose leadership or citizenship or scholarship or commerce as your way of fulfilling your role as a citizen of our great country and of our evolving world—the fundamental virtues of respect and grace and civility are indispensable standards for responsible citizenship in our democracy.
Congratulations and may you all be blessed.
* Editor’s Note: Ambassador Kampelman offered these remarks at the 39th Annual Publius Awards Dinner of the Center for the Study of the Presidency on April 7, 2005.
Counselor to the Department of State, 1987-1989;
Head of the United States Delegation to the Negotiations on Nuclear and Space Arms, 1985-1989;
Ambassador and Head of the United States Delegation;
to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1980-1983