Turtles on Fence Posts and Other Lessons From Departing Senators

An exercise in memorable one-liners.

What began as Sen. Tom Harkin giving his final farewell to Congress after more than 40 years, turned into a cogent explanation of why he identifies with a turtle.

It makes more sense than you might think. "If you're driving down a country road and you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you can be sure of one thing: It didn't get there by itself," Harkin told a chamber full of colleagues. "I can relate to that turtle," he added. "I didn't get here by myself. My staff helped."

If Harkin's turtle parable was the most abstruse, it certainly wasn't the only wisdom from this year's class of departing senators. What follows is a roundup of their best lessons.

  • For Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, it's really, truly all about the staff. "I can't count the number of times Iowans have thanked me for something my staff has done to help," he said in a particularly memorable line.
  • Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., agrees: "To my staff—a senator is really nothing without his staff, or her staff. You live and you breathe your work every day; you inspire me. You never turned a single West Virginian away."
  • Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla, says senators shouldn't put their own state's constituents first: "It is nice to be able to do things for your state, but that isn't our charge. Our charge is to protect the future of our country by upholding the Constitution and ensuring the liberty that is guaranteed there is protected and preserved."
  • Sen. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., says the opposite: "I have put North Carolinians first every single day," she told the Senate chamber. The comment received a standing ovation from several people in the chamber, but Coburn, presumably, was not among them.
  • Sen. Levin, D-Mich., really, really wants filibuster reform: "I believe the excessive use of filibuster in the confirmation of President Obama's nominees was damaging to the Senate and to the nation," Levin said, adding he believes that any president—Republican or Democrat—should be allowed to choose his own team.
  • And Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., says looks are just skin deep when it comes to her beloved Gulf Coast: "It may not be as sexy as the West Coast or has prosperous as the East Coast, but the Gulf Coast is really worth fighting for. It's a very special place in our country."

    Didn't get enough wisdom for the upper chamber's departing members? Choose your own Senate farewell speech adventure here.