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Special Event

President Clinton Addresses Memorial for Gov. Mel Carnahan

Aired October 20, 2000 - 1:53 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We rejoin now the memorial service for the governor of Missouri, who was kill this week in a plane crash, Mel Carnahan. President Clinton is the next speaker. He was a close friend of the governor's.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REV. EARL NANCE, PRES., ST. LOUIS CLERGY COALITION: ... we thank you for the life of Mel Carnahan, that he passed our way. We thank you for his integrity, his compassion, his character, his courage, his commitment, his calm demeanor, his love of God, of family, of children, of country, of the citizens of the great state of Missouri. May we remember and act upon his legacy.

Our hearts are broken, but our resolve is strong. Bring thy healing love to give release, take from our love despair and give us hope, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jean, Robin, Tom, Russ, Debra, all the Carnahan family, and the extended Carnahan family.

To the Sifford family, and Governor and Mrs. Wilson, Senator Daschle, and Congressman Gephardt, and all the members of Congress who are here, and the governors.

I think I can speak for Hillary and the vice president and Tipper when I say that we are profoundly honored to be here. And we come out of respect for the work that Mel Carnahan did for the people of Missouri, the example he set for the nation, and the genuine friendship he showed to us. I loved the guy. And anybody who thinks he was dull never looked him straight in the eye, because he had steel and passion and fire. And I think he rather enjoyed being underestimated by people who disagreed with him.

I hope his fellow citizens of this Show Me State will be gratified by what is an absolutely stunning representation here in this crowd, of his fellow governors, United States senators, United States representatives, from all across this great land.

They came here because he in some way touched them or because he inspired them or because, like me, they were just crazy about him. He was a leader in the very best way. Yes, he was a leader like Harry Truman. He spoke the plain truth and thought there was no greater calling than public service, and really believed if you appealed to the best in people, most of the time that's exactly what you'd get.

In a time when it's fashionable for people in public life to sort of complain about the difficulties of it, he was frank to say that he liked politics and public service; indeed, he loved it. He didn't understand why some people thought it was a sacrifice and a pain. For him, it was a calling, a calling to work with people. And I saw it, personally.

I don't know how many times either the vice president or I came to Missouri because this was the leading state in the country in moving people from welfare to work. He believed that the dignity of a job and the ability to work and support one's children was the best form of social welfare, and he thought we could do it right.

And we came here at least three times, I did, to try to point the way to the rest of the country to look and see what was going on here and know we could do it all around America. I, too, remember those awful floods where he led by example, scrambling up levies to help bear the burden of sandbagging.

When his critics warned him not to raise taxes for education, because he could lose his job, he decided that Missouri's kids were worth the risk. And those of us who followed him loved him even more. And when some outside interests tried to pass a concealed weapon law in Missouri, he really took his career in his hands. Mel and Robin and the entire family got a lot of people involved, even got Hillary involved, everybody they could scourge up to help them to stand up and turn a tide that, I have to confess, I didn't think they could turn.

For the Carnahans, politics was a noble family affair. They have given so much, each in their own way. And they've done it with dignity, grace and generosity of spirit.

For all of the young people out here wondering whether politics is or is not compatible with a good loving family, I say look at the Carnahans.

You can deal with the rough and tumble; if there's enough love, you will endure and flourish.

Less than a week ago, our friend Mel was hard at work in what turned out to be his last campaign. I thought when we marched behind the casket today and the magnificent horse with the boot turned backwards in the stirrups that in a way it was fitting that our friend Mel died in the saddle with his boots on, fighting for the causes he championed and the people of Missouri whom he loved so much and served so well.

We honor that. And we honor the life of his son and of Chris Sifford. We honor the fact that Randy was always ready to help and support his father. We honor the fact that Chris was an idealist who gave so much of his life to the public service that Mel did. We honor the fact that they believed in him and, in turn, he made them believe in themselves and their ability to make a difference.

I like the fact that Mel Carnahan was the only politician that I've known who was actually not ashamed to say that one of his political role models was Adlai Stevenson.

It didn't matter to him that Stevenson had holes in his shoes, lost the presidency twice and was considered by most people to be an impractical egghead. The main thing was Stevenson was an elegant, good man, who thought politics was a noble endeavor, and he said it better than just about anybody ever has.

I will never forget coming to a rally in southwest Missouri in early 1992 when Mel was involved in a very tough primary for governor that he wasn't necessarily favored to win, and I was running for president, polling a distance fifth in New Hampshire. Only my mother thought I could win.

(LAUGHTER)

But Mel Carnahan came to that rally in southwest Missouri and came out for me. He had absolutely nothing to gain by it. Nothing. He did it just because he thought it was right.

And for eight years, he has been my friend and my partner. In so many ways he was a magnificent governor. I suspect only those who have worked with him across a wide range of issues can know just how good he was.

The last thing we did here together, Jean, was to talk about the Patients' Bill of Rights and to eat a little bit of barbecue. Mel made sure we went in the kitchen and shook hands with the people there. Never let me forget that just because I wasn't running again, I was still a public servant.

I am grateful -- grateful -- that I knew Mel Carnahan. I am grateful that we had the chance to work together.

He left us too early, but he had a great ride. He had a wonderful wife, devoted children, people who believed in public service. Robin worked in our administration for a while, and I'm grateful for that. And I think we should remember him with this admonition of St. Paul's to the Galatians: While we have time, let us do good.

I spoke the other day to a congregation of bishops to the Church of God in Christ, and I made the mistake of saying I was glad to be with them because, unlike me, they weren't term-limited. And the head bishop stood up and said, "Mr. President, we are all term-limited."

So if he were here, and in a way he is, he would say, "OK, so I had a lot more I wanted to do, but I had a good ride." And it's not so bad being up there. The boys are good company, and I'm looking down on you. You know what to do. While you have time, do good."

We'll miss you, Mel. We'll try to take up the slack, but we'll not have another one like you.

God bless you and God speed.

ALLEN: President Clinton talking about his friend and Democratic ally Mel Carnahan, the governor of Missouri, who died earlier this week in a plane crash on his way to a Senate campaign event. He was running for U.S. Senate in the state of Missouri.

Mel Carnahan nearly a generation older than Bill Clinton, but he became a trusted friend of the president. Carnahan and his wife Jean frequent Washington visitors and sometimes stayed overnight in the White House.

Mel Carnahan will be buried tomorrow afternoon in a rural Ozark Mountain cemetery.

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