If You're Going to Washington, BYOC (Bring Your Own Courage)

Earlier this month the government finally reopened, once again within hours of defaulting on the debt limit. I wrote about this a few weeks ago and spoke about the lack of courage from the House Speaker. The deadlock was broken only when a vote was finally called. The House of Representatives voted 285 to 144 (87 Republicans voted to reopen). In the Senate the vote was 81 to 18. Of course this is only valid until January, but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this later.

The lack of courage I wrote about was brought into clearer focus for me a few weeks ago. I’m currently reading [Woodrow] Wilson by A. Scott Berg. Most of us know him as our 28th President but before that he was president of Princeton University and governor of New Jersey.

In November of 1912 he was elected President. On March 1, 1913 he wrote this to his successor as governor: “The rarest thing in public life is courage, and the man who has courage is marked for distinction; the man who has not is marked for extinction, and deserves submission.”

These past few weeks we’ve found a just how rare courage can be. Congressional republicans find themselves being pulled toward confrontation and away from compromise/progress/responsibility not because they fear being defeated by a democrat in the next election but because they fear being defeated by a more conservative republican in the primary.

In other words, they are putting their own job security above the good of the country. To be fair, they have a point. You can see the latest from Sarah Palin who supports replacing moderate republicans. You may remember Sarah: she ran for Vice President in 2008 and was the candidate who didn’t know that North Korea and South Korea were different nations, and couldn’t name any newspapers in Alaska.

On the other hand, really? Are there no senators or representatives who have enough of a moral compass to put the good of the nation above their own careers?

I write this against the backdrop of someone who died earlier this month: Tom Foley.

Tom died on October 18th. He represented the 5th Congressional district of Washington State from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995. He was defeated in 1994 by George Nethercutt who ran on a platform of term limits. George argued that Tom’s 30 years in the House jaded him to the point that he was no longer representing his district but had “gone native” in Washington DC; he promised that, if elected, he would only serve 3 terms (6 years). In 2000 he announced that he “changed his mind” and ran again. He ended his House career in 2004 when he ran for Senate and lost.

We would have done better if Tom had won. He could have been the voice of reason

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