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Cotton Honors Bill Bennett at the Values Voter Summit

September 12, 2016

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

Washington, D.C.- Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) on Saturday honored Former Secretary of Education and radio host Bill Bennett at the Values Voter Summit. Click here to watch the speech in full. Additionally, a full transcript is available below.

Good evening. Thank you, Tony, for the very kind introduction, and thank you all for the warm welcome. It's an honor to be here with you tonight, and it's a special honor to be here to honor a great American, Dr. Bill Bennett.

Bill is a special man. Not many men can quote The Federalist in one breath and then break-down the college football Top 25 in the next breath. Speaking of that, too many college athletes today don't get their degree when their playing days are over. But, not Bill. Bill was a lineman at Williams College, and he has more degrees than a thermometer.

Seriously, he doesn't just have his bachelors, a Ph.D., and a law degree. Bill has more than 30 honorary degrees. If that guy was a European, he really would have more degrees than their thermometers.

But Bill is not a European, thank goodness. Bill is an all-American. He's been defending our constitutional order for the better part of five decades now. As a teacher, cabinet official, writer, and commentator, Bill has spoken out, courageously and tirelessly, not just for our system of government, but also for our character, our culture, our children, and our way of life.

If there's a single insight that might sum up Bill's career, it's that self-government presupposes and requires self-government. If a people, as individuals, can't govern their own impulses and passions, destructive tendencies and bad habits, old prejudices and animosities, how can that people expect to govern itself politically as a people? James Madison described this connection between the character of our people and our system of government in The Federalist. He said:

"As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form."

This truth may be controversial, but it's no less true for the controversy. And Bill has never been one to shy from controversy. When he was relatively new as Secretary of Education, he attended a cabinet meeting. Sitting next to President Reagan, he saw a folder of newspaper clippings in front of the President, labeled somewhat ominously "Bennett." After the meeting started, President Reagan went through the negative headlines, and then asked the rest of the cabinet, "This is what Bennett's been up to, what have the rest of you been doing?"

Now, you might ask, where did Bill learn these things? Because it wasn't at Harvard, believe me. That's one thing Bill and I have in common: we got out of Harvard as conservatives. That's no easy task-in fact the only way you may be able to get out of Harvard as a conservative is to go into it as a conservative.

Actually, Bill and I share more than just an alma mater there. During law school, we were both resident advisors to Harvard freshmen in the same dorm. Not at the same time. Bill was there many, many, many, many, many years before I was. But, I suppose I was somewhat famous, maybe infamous, because of my conservative politics and my old-fashioned belief in a Great Books education. After I would give advice to students, I suspect you might have heard some grumbling, but maybe a little bit after that you heard them say, "Yeah, but that guy Bennett used to be way worse when he was here."

To be fair to Harvard, you actually could learn these things there, if you had the right professors and classes, and if you did you probably had an advisor like Bill. I was fortunate in that regard, and I found the right teachers there to build upon the moral and religious foundation that my parents, pastors, teachers, and coaches had laid for me. I am sure Bill had that same foundation, and he was fortunate to find those same kind of teachers.

But I had it easier than Bill; most people about my age did. We had the same canon as he did: the Bible and Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas, Locke and Smith, The Federalist and Tocqueville. But we also had books that Bill never had: The Book of Virtues, The Moral Compass, Our Sacred Honor, and a few other titles by one William J. Bennett.

I can still remember the first summer that I came upon The Book of Virtues. It didn't take long to realize that Bill was writing about the very same fundamental things I'd read in those old books, or to realize that those fundamental things-faith, character, justice, nobility, beauty-are as eternal as those old books told me they were, and that they were as necessary and true today, in Bill Bennett's voice, as they were in those older books.

And that's how I knew Bill for the longest time, like most Americans know him as an author. I only met Bill recently when I got into politics. It may not surprise some of you to know that many public figures don't always live up to their reputations in private. Now that I've gotten to know Bill, I can tell you that he doesn't live up to his image in private. He far exceeds it.

Bill has written often about the need for heroes, especially for kids. In the last year of his radio show, which happened to be the first year of my time in the Senate, I would occasionally appear on his show. My son in that period grew from a newborn to a toddler, and he would sometimes make some unscheduled guest appearances in the background on the show, Bill would always helpfully point those out on the air. Bill sent to me, to give to Gabriel, his book The Children's Book of Heroes. And he inscribed in it "Gabriel, you are much blessed. Born in the greatest country in the world to wonderful parents. Find great heroes!"

Gabriel's mom is no doubt very wonderful. His dad still has a lot of work to do, but he's trying. One thing I will try to do is to make sure he finds the right heroes. And he certainly could do a lot worse than Bill Bennett.

Thank you, Bill, thank you, and God bless you all.