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Profiles in Politics

Posted Monday, October 1, 2012, at 9:20 AM

"Democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (Sir Winston Churchill)

Every generation should be required to read John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Profiles in Courage" -- or at least something very much like it. Reading Kennedy reassures us that many times the country has been in worse shape, our divisions deeper and opposing sides more vehement.

At a time when polling says Congress is less popular than, say, Communism, we can take heart in knowing things have been a lot worse for past generations of voters and politicians. If things today are not as good as it gets, neither are they as bad as it got.

Though primarily addressed to the situations in the Senate, Kennedy gives a good overview of what the legislative process has been like over the years. There has been vote trading almost from the beginning, such vile epithets expressed by foes as to be as yet unusable on network TV, and even resorting to physical violence during legislative sessions.

If you think office holders holding allegiance to big business is news, Kennedy relates that the great Senator and orator Daniel Webster "could see nothing improper in writing to the president of the Bank of the United States -- at the very time when the Senate was engaged in debate over a renewal of the Bank's charter -- noting that 'my retainer has not been received or refreshed as usual.'"

Then there were the campaigns. Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, was called an adulterer and his wife a "whore". It was said Mrs. Jackson was pushed to an early death by vileness of her husband's enemies. As to sitting Presidents, George Washington was referred to by an enemy as "treacherous in private friendship and a hypocrite in public..."!

The much less theatrical actions of our elected representatives these past two years have not inspired much confidence, though. When either Party turns on or devours even its own proposals merely to destroy a sitting President or Governor, such turns must be taken as non-American and to some degree lacking in moral turpitude.

In attempting to define what he means by "Courage", Kennedy writes:

"The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people -- faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment -- faith that the people will not condemn those who devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right." Pg. 253f

As we approach yet another election, we must admit that a number of those whom we've sent to the White House or Congress or the State House or Clay County Court House have been fabricators, weak-hearted, or downright scallywags.

Which begs the question each candidate need answer: With all that has gone before, why should we put our faith in you?

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My view from the back pew
David L. Lewis
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