ASSOCIATION OF CENTERS FOR THE STUDY OF CONGRESS
Video Greeting to the Annual Conference of The Association of Centers
for the Study of Congress
Dodd Research Center,
The University of Connecticut
My thanks to all of you gathered there at the Dodd Center at UCONN for inviting me to welcome you to this important conference.
I regret that I’m not able to join you in person, since the Senate is in session and voting today. Under current leadership, the Senate usually only votes Tuesday afternoon through Thursday night, so in the Senate Wednesday is considered a real full-time workday! But seriously, this audience more than most will appreciate the need for me to be here in the Senate to do the work of the people of Connecticut.
I do regret missing your discussions, since the agenda your members have developed looks fascinating. Your gathering reminds me of a true story told by a University of MN archivist about Hubert Humphrey. She was proudly showing off the seemingly endless rows of shelves of his Senatorial and Vice-Presidential papers to the senator, arranged in special acid-free boxes carefully embossed with the Senate or Vice-Presidential seal. Humphrey looked at the vast array stretched out in front of him and said "Lord, they always complained that I talked too much. I guess they weren’t kidding.”
The Association and the Congressional Centers you represent can play a key part in renewing our democracy, in shaping our grand national democratic experiment. In an era when anger, cynicism, extremism and polarization too often hold sway, your voices of reason are essential.
And believe me, with Congressional approval ratings hovering in the low 20’s, driven in part by recent Congressional scandals centered in the people’s House… with national voter turnout rates still among the lowest in the western world...with too many Americans taking our democratic system for granted, assuming it will work as well as it has for over 200 years without their active civic engagement….and with Americans’ increasing distrust of our government institutions … it’s clear that the Congress needs your help now more than ever.
Help to better explain to Americans what we in Congress do, help to describe how the legislative process works -- and help to discern ways to improve the democratic process, making it more open, accountable and responsive.
From combating government secrecy and promoting openness to preserving Congressional collections and archives; from promoting scholarship on Congress and representative government to explaining to Americans more clearly how Congress works, the mission of the Association is enormously important.
As I look back on the last few decades, it’s clear we have come a long way on all these fronts. But we still have a ways to go. Your contributions to assessing what we in Congress do and how we do it, and your recommendations to make Congress more effective and more accountable to those whom we serve are important to all of us. We are partners in these efforts.
I’m delighted the Dodd Center is hosting this important gathering, and want to acknowledge the important work of Tom Wilsted, the Director of the Center, and his staff; Ray Smock, the distinguished former historian of the House and now your President; the staff of the Association, and all those who worked hard to make this conference a success.
I also want to welcome my former colleague Congressman Glen Browder, whose many contributions in the area of national security, and thinking about how we might renew our democratic system, still resonates. And all those other conference presenters who have prepared so thoughtfully for these discussions. Laboring in the vineyard of Congressional studies and records collections can be a solitary calling, and I want you to know how much those of us who serve in the House and Senate appreciate your work.
I know that my father would be deeply proud of the work of the Center, and especially of its sponsorship of this conference and the work you are doing there together. I grew up in and around Congress, trailing my father to committee hearings and mark-ups, and have worked within it much of my adult life, so have a special and profound personal investment in the institution and its work. I learned early on that Congressional service is a high honor, accompanied by a profound responsibility. You help us discharge that responsibility.
As in so many other areas of life, we sit in the shade of trees planted long ago, by those who recognized the importance of work like yours. We’ve arrived at this moment because of countless gestures of hope made by generations that have preceded us: Congressional Centers started and sustained, Members’ personal and office archives donated and preserved, scholars nurtured and encouraged to study Congress, our unique democratic system, and our hope for a vibrant, healthy democratic future together.
Your work more than most brings to mind that hope, as you consider how best to preserve, protect and strengthen the finest traditions of the Congress and, looking forward, how to help us as an institution better serve all Americans. In just a few short years, the ACSC has developed an excellent program which draws on the talents and resources of its members to promote a wide range of programs and research opportunities related to Congress. Many of you bring unique expertise and perspectives developed over decades of working in Congress, in the academy, in think tanks and centers of excellence which focus on Congress.
Distinguished centers like the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington are an enormously important resource for those of us who work in Congress. Its scholars and practitioners contribute in so many ways to our ongoing work here, regularly interacting with Members of Congress and their staff in a mutually beneficial relationship.
But I know most of you labor in the nearly 50 independent historical societies, congressional archives and collections, and university-based study centers that compose the association outside of Washington, and that you may not often have the chance to gather and share your work and ideas and best practices with one another. That’s why I was so pleased to see the Association start its work several years ago, with able and energetic leadership, and why these kinds of conferences are so important.
Find related 2006 meeting information at:
The third annual meeting of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress on May 4-5, 2005 was held at the National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408. Jefferson Room.
The Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) meeting on May 5-6, 2004 was held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 2004. Fifth floor Conference Room. (Metro stop: Federal Triangle).
Find the meeting agenda at: http://congresscenters.org/conference.htm#2004