One of my goals when I assumed the responsibilities of Majority Leader of the United States Senate in June 1996, was to make the Senate better understood by the American people. This venerable institution is unique in many ways, and its proceedings, so frequently crucial to the nation's fate, are sometimes arcane and often difficult to follow. Its rules, though they have changed over the course of two hundred years, remain something apart, and perhaps above, the proceedings of all other legislatures.
With its one hundred members, the Senate lacks the dramatically single focus of the Presidency. And with the staggered, six-year terms that ensure the Senate's continuity despite intervening national elections, it can lack the political immediacy of the House of Representatives (where I served from 1973 to 1989). And yet, despite those factors (or perhaps because of them) the Senate is widely considered to be the greatest deliberative body in the world.
That august standing confirms the intent of the framers of the Constitution. What they crafted as a small group of prominent individuals chosen by the state legislatures has become a large chamber of diverse citizens, elected by the rough and tumble of modern American politics. And yet, in ways that are difficult to explain, that transformation has served to preserve and enhance the Senate's traditions rather than erode them.
One of my colleagues, in a magisterial history of the Senate, termed it a "place of resounding deeds." It has indeed been that, and more. It has been a stage for wrenching national dramas, an arena for intensely personal conflicts, and, most of all, a creative work place, where individual men and women, from every imaginable background, have helped to forge the American future.
To foster a deeper appreciation of the Senate as an institution, and to show how it continues both to adapt to circumstances and to master them, I have asked several distinguished individuals to participate in what we call the Leader's Lecture Series. In these gatherings, on the hallowed ground of the historic Old Senate Chamber, an invited assembly of academicians, journalists, and religious and cultural leaders has joined current and past members of the Senate to consider the wisdom and enjoy the wit of those who have been giants in our time: Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virgina, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, President George Bush, Senator George Mitchell of Maine, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, Vice President Dan Quayle, President Gerald Ford, and Vice President Walter Mondale.