What do we have instead?
— Blowhards like Sarah Palin who are more interested in soundbites, making money and getting on TV than actually doing any work.
— Weaklings like S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, who drag out the release of a public report of a public investigation by a public body about his failings as a public servant.
— Scoundrels like three Democratic U.S. senators who held out until the last minute on a procedural vote for health care reform because they are scared they won’t be re-elected.
— Partisan boobs like the infotainers Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann.
— Political lemmings, like many in Southern state legislatures who aren’t able to make up their minds without consulting the polls, lobbyists and special interests.
Where are the Martin Luther King Jrs. of today? Where are the crusading editors, such as The Atlanta Constitution’s Ralph McGill, who wrote about kicking the Klan in the teeth from the 1940s until his death in 1969? Where are more leaders like Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who marched on Columbia earlier this decade in protest of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse?
In 1955 when then-Senator John F. Kennedy published “Profiles in Courage,” he recognized that all sorts of forces seek to dampen the spirit of courage in our elected leaders – the influence from political peers in office, the desire to be re-elected and the pressure from constituents and lobby groups. In the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, he recognized the increased impact of mass media, which has exploded since Kennedy’s day with the Internet, faxes, Blackberries, Twitter, Facebook and cable television.
But in the end, he concluded that political courage and the ability to compromise without giving up principles remains important for America to remain America: “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality,” Kennedy wrote.
Eleven years later, respected Arkansas U.S. Sen. William Fulbright wrote in “The Arrogance of Power,” that it was important to criticize one’s country. “Criticism is more than a right: it is an act of patriotism, a higher form of patriotism, than the familiar rituals of national adulation.”
So when there’s news that Republican county parties in South Carolina are censuring U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for diligently working with others to come up with a national solution on carbon pollution or immigration, we think of Graham’s courage and others’ callousness and cowardice.
When we read how South Carolina Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mullins McLeod of Charleston wants the Confederate flag taken off the Statehouse grounds, we easily can predict the firestorm of hatred his campaign will get. And while he may have been trying to kickstart his campaign, at least he had the courage to take a stand unpopular to many.
When we see President Obama trying to fix health care, get better options on Afghanistan and move the economy forward, we know we’re seeing flashes of courage, and not grandstanding. These are tough decisions.
More of our leaders need to take a political lesson from the daily, unheralded experiences of our police, firefighters, soldiers, sailors and airmen – sometimes it’s just time to say, “Damn the torpedoes … full speed ahead.” These elected officials need to ignore pollster politics and stand up for what’s right.
More in our media need to stop the hype, ask hard questions and do the real stories that highlight what’s going on in America and our state.
It’s time for political and editorial courage – for people to look into their hearts to do what’s right – to work on big challenges in the economy, education, health care and poverty. And if not now, when?
Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and president of the Center for a Better South. He can be reached at: [email protected]