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Political courage

by Jim Elliott
| February 23, 2022 12:00 AM

Courage is a virtue that we Americans value in our culture. An act of courage transcends ideology, it is a personal characteristic that belongs to the individual or group and to call it bravery without thought of personal consequences is as good a definition as any. We award medals for it. It is the soldier who risks his life to save those of others just as much as it is the passerby who jumps into rushing waters to save a drowning child. It is a strictly personal quality, and we recognize a courageous act even if we disagree with the cause in which it is performed. It is doing what you believe is morally and ethically right without regard to personal safety or gain.

That quality exists, albeit more seldom than it should, in politicians, too.

When America finally joined the ranks of the 30-odd industrialized nations of the world in providing — or at least expanding — health care insurance for all citizens, Montana’s U.S. Sen. Max Baucus was front and center in securing agreement on a bill that would pass Congress. It didn’t please everybody, especially Baucus’ Democratic supporters in Montana who, as partisan ideologues, didn’t think of taking into account that politics is the art of the possible and that Baucus was trying to put together not only something that would help the American people but would have the votes to become a reality.

As Baucus moved forward, largely on his own, it seemed, I watched as his approval ratings went lower and lower, especially among members of his own political party. It was becoming obvious that his chances of getting re-elected that year were approaching slim-to-none, but he kept plugging away at getting what he thought was the best deal for Americans and was responsible in large part for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. After serving Montanans longer than any other Senator, 36 years, His efforts to do what he thought was right also eroded his political base, and he chose not to run for re-election. I admired his courage.

Now there is Liz Cheney, reviled by most in her political party for standing up for what she believes in which is getting to the bottom of the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and for voting to impeach the president for what she believed was his responsibility in causing the insurrection. I want to be clear in stating that I don’t agree with her politics anymore than I did with those of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, but I admire her courage. Whenever a politician takes a stand on an issue with which other members of their political party disagree the outraged pundits and fellow party members assign an ulterior motive to the action lest it be seen for what it actually is — a courageous act.

Think as I might, I can’t come up with anything that she might have to gain that would outweigh what she stands to lose. Political power? Not hardly, not in the party she has outraged. Monetary gain from a best-selling exposé telling all the juicy bits? How she sabotaged a successful political career to cash in on the story? I just think that’s not her style. Maybe a top job at a big corporation where, by some strange quirk, they are not looking for team players. Possibly somebody can come up with the self-serving ulterior motive here, but I can’t.

Nope, to me it looks like a case of taking a stand on principle, a belief in the Constitution and the American institutions and principles that fewer and fewer seem to hold in respect. Oh yeah, and an inborn sense of right and wrong.

Whatever her reasons are, they are not something that she can take to the bank. But she can get up every morning and look in the bathroom mirror and see there a person who has been true to her beliefs.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.

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