Redefining the Classroom

Senator Philip A. Hart Memorial Scholarship

Quotes to Honor Hart

Philip A. HartOn September 30, 1976, Phil Hart's colleagues took time during Senate proceedings to pay tribute to him and wish him well upon his retirement. Among the many words that were spoken are these:

Senator Robert P. Griffin of Michigan

"When I think of Phil Hart, words come to mind like gentleness, kindness, compassion, integrity, intelligence, dedication, modesty – and, above all, courage…

In his tenure here, he has left a lasting mark, both on this body and on the nation…I do not know how many colleagues will be able to come to the floor this morning. I do know, however, that many of them, in their own way, paid tribute in a direct and personal way last week. I refer to a gathering initiated by his seatmate, Sen. Ed Muskie. Initially it was to be a small gathering (to show Hart drawings of the new Senate office building to be named in his honor). Then, as word spread through the corridors…more and more Senators stopped by. As a result, the meeting grew larger and larger and had to be moved from its original place, the majority leader's office, to a larger area…The room filled to capacity…many Senators were standing and some sat on the floor at this unannounced meeting for Phil Hart.

Will Rogers once observed that, "Heroes are made every little while, but only one in a million conducts himself afterward so that it makes us proud that we honored him at the time."

Phil Hart is such a hero. We are proud to know him and to have had the opportunity to honor him. Indeed, it is he who has honored us by his friendship and inspiration."

Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana

"…Perhaps one of the most important things that needs to be said about Phil Hart is that he always kept a careful perspective on himself, his colleagues and the issues with which we were dealing. Never afflicted by an overgrown ego, Phil Hart commanded great respect for his interest, decency and self-effacing nature. It is ironic that in a world where one encounters some individuals who are a bit too self-important or a bit too impressed with themselves, that Phil Hart – so important to the Senate and so impressive an individual – has never fallen victim to those Washington maladies."

Senator Frank Church of Idaho

"Phil Hart has set a standard to which every Senator should aspire. No other member of this body has expressed a greater moral force throughout his years of service here… One of the most human and endearing traits of Phil Hart is his natural inclination to assume the best in the behavior of others. Remember his frank and refreshing confession of error, when he said that members of his family had tried unsuccessfully to persuade him that our intelligence agencies were engaged in illegal and improper practices. When the evidence later proved them right, Phil Hart was unstinting in his efforts to expose the wrongdoing and to advocate remedies designed to better protect the liberties of the people in the future."

Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois

"He was not afraid to be in the minority nor did he allow the shifting winds of day-to-day politics to cloud his perceptions of what was right…He has left us a legacy of honor whose preservation is the only tribute he would want."

Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine

"The public record of Phil Hart does little to explain the effect he has had on all of us. For his greatness will always lie in a spirit that was always gentle, compassionate, courageous and decent. He has consistently helped to quiet the rancor, to soothe the bitterness during some very turbulent years of this Senate. He has taught us the value of the gentle word. He had helped remind us of the meaning of public services – that duty, honor and sensitivity must always and foremost – that service to our country is a personal, as well as a public commitment."

Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III of Illinois

"The Senate will soon be poorer. A gentle spirit and a quiet conscience will be gone from this place. But I do not believe Phil Hart's presence is likely to disappear with him. He made an indelible impression on us. He was unfailingly good humored, thoughtful and wise – not the stuff of sensation and media attention. He attended to the work of the country. He was firm and persistent in the struggle for social justice, peace in Southeast Asia, a system of free enterprise that is free. The good fights are long ones. He never shrank from one, never abandoned one for some flash in the pan or because it was politically expedient to back off. That gentle man was tough. And he was effective because above all else he was principled, completely honest…he never compromised his high standards of conduct or his commitment to the welfare of the people he represented."


To his colleagues that day Senator Phil Hart said:

"There are no word combinations to express my appreciation – an appreciation that goes back to a father and mother who encouraged me to prepare, and to a state which welcomed me as a stranger and gave me the opportunity to serve and permitted me to sit with those here today and those who preceded me."

"I leave as I arrived, understanding clearly the complexity of the world into which we were born and optimistic that if we give it our best shot, we will come close to achieving the goals set for us 200 years ago."


A Tribute to the Conscience of the Senate

Richard A. Ryan, in The Detroit News

"Cancer has finally stilled the voice of Michigan Senator Philip A. Hart…his death ended a life of public service that began nearly three decades ago and included, in addition to his 18 years in the Senate, a four-year stint as Michigan's lieutenant governor.

But clearly his fondest memories, and certainly his greatest fame, resulted from the time spent in the Senate, where he became one of its best liked and most respected members…

Early in his political career, Hart considered a Senate seat to be the best job possible, remarking at one time: 'I honestly believe that to sit in the U.S. Senate in the midst of the 20th century is the greatest thing that could happen to any man.'

But, in later years, he seemed to become disillusioned with the Senate and its slow plodding pace…

'You know,' He told his fellow senators, 'the trouble is we believe all the things we say about each other in here. We think this is where it really happens. But it isn't. It's happening out there and in time, God willing, we finally react to it.'"

Former Senator. Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota, in The New Republic

"Philip Hart was a politician. He recognized politics as an honorable, necessary and difficult vocation. He practiced it not as the 'art of the possible,' which is a wholly inadequate definition, but as a discipline of mind and of will, as a profession which should carry the common good beyond what is considered prudent and possible. He knew that politics is not a game to be scored, to be marked by winning and losing, but rather a continuing challenge…

He did not seek to be 'the conscience of the Senate,' as some have described him. His method was not to express moral judgment or indignation, but to make the reasoned and the pragmatic argument.

I do not think he would have accepted statements…that he 'cut through every issue to find the truth and then laid that truth out for all to see.' He was too modest and too honest to accept any such credit. Rather his effort was to come close to truth, to work around it and there on the edge to ask his colleagues- sometimes to urge them, but with modest hesitation and some expression of doubt on his part- to take the next step. He asked them to take the risk as an act of civil faith that the commitments of the Declaration of Independence could be realized, but only if they were willing to take chances on the side of liberty and of trust.

Phil Hart was not indecisive, as some of his critics have said he was. Like Adlai Stevenson, against whom the same charge was made, he refused to give a simple and immediate response to demands for decision when decision was not called for. He studied and reflected, and when ready he drew the line and marked the threshold. Then only he would say to his Senate colleagues, 'This is as far as I can or will take you. You may cross over with me, if you will, or stand back; but as for me, I have made the choice of crossing.'"

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in New Times

"He was an ideal Senator, combining almost perfectly the twin roles of Senator from Michigan and United States Senator, faithfully representing the interests of the people of his state, and just as faithfully reconciling them with the larger interests of the nation as a whole.

Above all, for a generation in the Senate he was a missionary for civil rights, skillfully and successfully guiding every major civil rights bill through the gauntlet of the filibuster. He helped the nation understand the depth of division caused by segregation and discrimination…

'Every American,' he said, 'should be judged as an individual, by our individual merits – and not while we are still 50 feet away, by the color God gave us.'

Often, he started out by asking why. Why should a child growing up black in the urban ghetto be more likely to drop out of high school than to graduate from college? Why should a child born on an Indian reservation have no doctor for the first six years of life? Why should anyone's horizon be narrowed by the color of his skin or the Spanish lilt to his name?

Phil Hart irritated some by these questions. But he asked them softly, with understanding and compassion. He also asked them with quiet force and with irresistible logic and persistence. And more than any other senator in my time he was listened to, because to hear such questions and to understand them was to answer them…

Every cause he touched, he left better than he found it. Now, he belongs to Clay, Calhoun, Webster and other great Senate name. It is difficult to believe that any finer person ever graced the Senate chamber."

Spencer Rich, in The Washington Post

"During three terms in the Senate, he battled for civil rights, a better break for the consumer in the marketplace and reduction of giant concentrations of economic power by huge corporations…

Through his role on the Commerce Committee he played a leading role on behalf of consumer and environment legislation, including no-fault auto insurance and consumer protection measures.

His other major committee assignment, the Judiciary Committee, put him in the middle of battles about civil rights, gun control and criminal law and eventually led to the chairmanship of the antitrust subcommittee, which conducted investigations into drug pricing, auto insurance, oil pricing, distribution of wealth, market manipulation and related issues.

He was co-sponsor of most major consumer legislation during his years in office and played a key role in the truth-in-packaging and truth-in-lending laws.

Perhaps his crowning legislative achievement, and a reflection of his dedication to the principles of free and fair competition in the economy, was passage of the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. Signed into law September 30, 1976, the measure is designed to strengthen federal and state enforcement of the nation's antitrust laws. President Ford did not conduct a signing ceremony, but he sent Senator Hart the only pen he had used in signing the bill…

When Senator Hart announced on June 5, 1975, that he would not seek a fourth Senate term, he gave age as his reason…He said he would be 64 when he completed his third term in 1976…

Undoubtedly age was a factor, but Senator Hart privately hinted…that discouragement with the glacial pace of legislation dearest to him and with the government's failure to do a better job for the people also were factors.

About a month after his retirement announcement he told a reporter that it is best to have a man in office who, however mistakenly, sincerely believe that he can change the world overnight once he gets into the Senate.

'You and I know that he's not going to be able to do it, but he makes a better senator if he thinks he's going to be able.' Sen. Hart said."

The Detroit Free Press

"There are few people who are almost universally respected. Respect, after all, must be earned. But Philip Hart was such a person.

He seemed to do the right thing, to say the right thing, before most people had even thought about the subject, let alone a conclusion.

In 1957, long before Peace Corps or VISTA, Mr. Hart, then lieutenant governor of Michigan, urged the state's Young Democrats to find solutions to 'poverty in Asia and Africa and prejudice in America.'

In 1958, six years before the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he wrote Vice President Richard Nixon and requested that more facts be made available on the success or failure of eliminating racial discrimination in government-contracted jobs.

In 1959, his first year in the Senate – and more that a decade before financial disclosure legislation – he broke a state precedent and revealed the financial details of his office operations. That same year, he called for a system of federal election registrars to ensure voting rights for blacks in the South.

On through the years, example after example piled up. He was the man with the conscience. The man who fought for the rights of consumers. The man who stared the home state auto companies in the eye. The man who made others realize that politics, despite so much evidence to the contrary, sometimes could be the kind of noble endeavor envisioned by the pragmatic but philosophical politicians who wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of this country.

Knowing all that about Phillip Hart, it is doubly difficult to reconcile it with the profound despair he felt in his last months. Not despair for himself – Philip Hart, who worked in the Senate so long as he could despite the cancer growing inside him, would waste no time on that – but despair because more had not been accomplished, because the basic structures of the economy had remained mostly unchanged, because not everyone shared his vision of what a better America would be.

Perhaps no greater tribute could be paid to Mr. Hart than to say he was wrong in that despair.

His being on earth, his being in the Senate, made a difference. Anyone older than 35 in this country can look back to the year Phil Hart was elected to the Senate, and state categorically that things have gotten better. Not perfect- human nature itself precludes that – but better. There may still be racial discrimination, but it is not tolerated by law. There may still be consumer deception, but the doctrine of caveat emptor is no longer acceptable. There may still be those who will defend to the death the status quo, but there are others who, having known or known of Phillip Hart, will never be so inclined."

Excerpt from Philip Hart: The Conscience of the Senate by Michael O’Brien, 1995  

"This building is dedicated to the memory of Philip A. Hart with affection, respect and esteem. A man of incorruptible integrity and personal courage strengthened by inner grace and outer gentleness, he elevated politics to a level of purity that will forever be an example to every elected official. He advanced the cause for human justice, promoted the welfare of the common man and improved the quality of life. His humanity and ethics earned him his place as the conscience of the Senate." - Philip A. Hart Senate Office Building