Words from Senator Specter

Senator Arlen Specter

John F. Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

These words resonate today as surely as they did almost half a century ago. In an age of cynicism, government and corporate scandal, terrorism and economic uncertainty, the call to public service rings louder than ever.   In a career spent largely in public service, I can speak to the rewards – as well as the challenges – of serving the people.  As students with all the idealism and energy of youth, I urge you to consider a career in politics or government. 

We live in challenging times. By the middle of this century, our country will have no racial or ethnic majority.  Industrial production will be redefined with advances in robotics and nanotechnology.  Health care will enter a new era of organ replacement and stem cell cures.  Information will be instantaneous and everywhere.  Our stewardship of the environment will be tested as never before. Terrorism will remain an ever-present threat. 

It will be up to the government to address the challenges that lie ahead.  My experience serving in the Senate for the past 28 years shows how the legislative process can help change the world in which we live.  In your hands will be the task of carrying on this nation’s great experiment in democratic government, now more than 200 years old and still an inspiration to millions of people around the globe.

What are a few of the defining challenges of the 21st century that a career in government will encounter? 

Climate change: Government industry and individual citizens must work together to reduce greenhouse gases and protect the environment.

Energy: We must wean ourselves from an overdependence on oil and the mercies of OPEC.  Alternative energies, tax credits, offshore drilling, fuel economy standards and “green” buildings are just a few of the matters subject to legislative action and oversight.

Health care:  Congress must find ways to deal with the growing cost of healthcare and the ethical dilemmas that new medical technologies pose. At the same time, it must continue to underwrite the nation’s leadership in health-related research.     

AIDS:  The United States must continue to lead the battle against AIDS.  Already, millions of H.I.V. patients in Africa and Caribbean states have gained access to retroviral drugs and medical assistance thanks to more than $25 billion that Congress has appropriated in the past eight years.     

Tyranny and Genocide: America must continue to stand against tyranny and oppression just as Congress has shown in its willingness to approve nearly $3 billion to support UN peacekeepers and provide emergency food relief to refugees in Darfur and Chad.   

Civil Liberties: In the midst of the continuing war on terror, Congress must be vigilant in guarding our rights and liberties as Americans along with our system of checks and balances designed to protect against arbitrary government.

Jobs and the Economy: The country must adopt new strategies and business models to compete in a global market, taking care to preserve the jobs and welfare of American workers. 

Engagement and Diplomacy: The United States must remain a major player in trouble spots around the world, nowhere with greater urgency than the Middle East. We must be willing to negotiate with our enemies as well as our friends. 

These are exciting times. Science and technology have given us more tools for hope and progress than ever before.  It will be up to your generation to apply these tools. What better place to do so than through a career in politics or government. I urge you to take a good look at the opportunities in public service.  I am sure you will discover, as I have, that there is no more rewarding experience.


Arlen Specter is the senior senator from Pennsylvania. He can be reached by visiting www.specter.senate.gov.