Remarks at the Dedication of a Bust of Winston Churchill
Secretary of State
Sizing up this famous and inimitable expression forever now captured in bronze and forever here in the Capitol, we remember not just the stirring oratory that you heard us reminded of in the speeches thus far, oratory that literally rescued the world, gave hope to the world. But we also know something about this man’s capacity to put the fear of God into his critics and anyone who dared to take him on, the withering retorts that struck fear into those critics. It was Churchill, after all, at a late-night party long past its rightful expiration date, who encountered a scold from his own party, who exclaimed in horror, “Winston, you’re drunk! You’re very drunk! You are very, very drunk!” And Winston, without missing a beat, looked back and said, “You, you are ugly. You are very ugly. You are very, very ugly, and what’s more, tomorrow I shall be sober.” (Laughter.)
This man was an original in every respect. When he was invited to the White House to stay for a week, he stayed for months. He felt free to use President Roosevelt’s bathtub, but no need to wear his bathrobes or any bathrobe when he was done. He really wrote the book on marching to the tune of your own beat, your own drummer.
Leadership in times of crisis – that was Winston Churchill, a call to a great cause – among all things, above all things, parochial. A man who answered his country’s call and was sobered by service in war himself – that was Winston Churchill. But so, too, did he remind us often that sometimes laughter is precisely the prescription for the ills of any political system. Even as Sir Winston famously summoned the humility to laugh at himself – or, as we know, sometimes at the expense of others – his defining characteristic was, of course, the courage to lead so many through so much. Last autumn, I had the privilege of finding myself in London, standing in the same subterranean World War II bunker, the very first of what we now call war rooms. And that was where Winston Churchill presided over Great Britain’s finest hour. It gave me new respect for a man who understood the nightly bombing raids and summoned in fresh words what today had been repeated and remembered by so many – to never, never, never give up.
It’s easy to forget that Churchill didn’t just commend those words to others; he lived them himself. When he was a prisoner of war in Africa, he managed to escape. When demoted for his role in Gallipoli in World War I, he picked himself up, taking a new leadership role on the Western Front. And when he was defeated as Prime Minister, knocked down with his party in a crushing political defeat just a year after I was born, he managed to dust himself off and wait for history to call again. He proved to all the world that life as well as leadership go on long after losing a mere election. He understood that – he understood the United States better, sometimes, than we even understood ourselves. He was the son of an American mother, proud to have had two great-grandfathers who fought in George Washington’s army – one in the Berkshire County Militia, and the other as part of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment.
And so it was fitting that in the shadows of World War II, and in the dawn of the Cold War, when some at home hoped the United States would turn inward, Churchill looked outward again and across the Atlantic. He traveled to the heartland of our country, to a tiny college in Fulton, Missouri, and he spoke of America’s awe-inspiring accountability to the future. With so many challenges all across the world today, struggles to be won, pandemics to be defeated, history yet to be defined, Churchill can be heard once again, with this bust, asking all of us to define our time here not in shutdowns or showdowns but in a manner befitting of a country that still stands, as he said then, at the pinnacle of power. That quintessential British subject and statesman upon whom President Kennedy, as we learned from the Speaker, conferred American citizenship, helped define the relationship, the special relationship, between the United States and the United Kingdom. But more than that, he understood that even the greatest patriots are not just citizens of their own countries, but citizens of the world, with responsibilities that go with it.
As the proud recipient of the State Department’s first and only honorary American passport, he would no doubt look to all of us today to use the privilege of our own passports, as he did, to help meet the world’s challenges in troubled corners of the globe. Cynics today might say, well, that’s an improbable aspiration. But hundreds of years ago, in this very city, what could have seemed more improbable than this day itself, to think that in Statuary Hall, a building British troops tried to burn down, that now the bust of a one-time Secretary, Secretary of State for the Colonies, will forever stand alongside the statue of Samuel Adams, the founder of the Sons of Liberty? And well it should, to remind us that our job is to do the improbable. And in that endeavor, as Winston Churchill’s likeness resides among our greatest patriots, Winston will remain forever an inspiration to those in the Capitol and across the continents.
We are sometimes – all of us, as we know too well – separated by oceans, and we are sometimes separated by political party or by ideology. But this bust will remind us of the bridges that we must build to span the gaps so that the work of democracy can continue, so that together we might fulfill the solemn duty to carry forward the cause of freedom and fundamental rights, and so that we can strengthen our alliances mindful that in a world far more complex than even Winston Churchill could’ve ever imagined or predicted, progress comes only when we pursue it together. The truth is that this bust residing in this Capitol in this place will remind us of that forever. (Applause.)