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Where Are the GOP "Profiles in Courage" on Capitol Hill?

Former-U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., spoke to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 24, 1995. (T.J. Sokol/AP)

The coronavirus pandemic death toll rises above 82,000 Americans. The administration continues to fumble the response leaving the nation’s governors on their own to design fifty separate strategies.

The president shows no empathy.

He claims total authority while accepting no responsibility.

He blames China, President Obama, the World Health Organization (WHO), the media —and others.

The president on "just a feeling" aggressively promotes the use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug which the FDA warns could lead to "serious heart rhythm problems."

More recently, he suggested considering injecting disinfectant into patients.

Meanwhile, the president’s attorney general withdraws the prosecution of former National Security Advsier Gen. Michael Flynn, who plead guilty to lying to the FBI.

President Trump who fired Flynn in 2017 for lying to his own vice-president, Mike Pence, about conversations with the Russian ambassador, now says of him, "He was an innocent man," and "I think Gen. Michael Flynn is an American patriot."

Asked about bringing Flynn back into his administration, Trump told reporters, "I would certainly consider it, yeah. I think he’s a fine man . . . "

These are but a few of the most recent outrages in an administration surving purported malfeasance; scandal and impeachment by wearing the American people down.

We've become numb to shock and anger.

We have seen children separated from their parents at the border, administration officials refusing to testify before Congress or provide subpoenaed documents, flaming torch-carrying white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia characterized as "very fine people," funds appropriated for other purposes spent on the president’s wall, and the media repeatedly berated as "fake" and labeled as an "enemy of the people."

It all comes so relentlessly, it’s like trying to drink from a firehose.

John F. Kennedy, in his 1955 book "Profiles in Courage," wrote, "In a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics . . . is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve."

I served on the U.S. Senate staff for more than three decades.

It is to that body, which I revere, that I turn. It is there that I search for the voices of conscience, for the "profiles in courage."

Where are the senators who will speak truth to power?

It's what the Framers intended the Senate to do.

James Madison described the Senate as "a necessary fence," speaking of the need, "first, to protect the people against their rulers, secondly, to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led."

It’s natural and easy for Democratic senators, the opposition party, to stand up to the president. They all voted to remove him from office during the impeachment trial.

Where are the voices of Republican senators? There are dozens of past Republican senators I served with on Capitol Hill who would not countenance the behavior of this president.

Madison, in "Federalist 63" speaks of when the people are being "misled by . . . artful misrepresentations." At such times, Madison asks " . . . how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body . . . to suspend the blow mediated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice and truth, can regain their authority over the public mind?"

Madison was expressing his faith that senators would rise to the occasion in these "critical moments."

Kennedy argues in his book that " . . . true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people . . . faith that the people . . . will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right."

For Republican senators in particular, earning that reward and that respect will require courage.

The people demand no less.

We are approaching the 70th birthday (on June 1) of Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s courageous "Declaration of Conscience."

Outraged by abusive lies and the false charges of Communist subversion promoted by her Republican colleague, then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., Smith warned of the "national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear. It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership either in the legislative branch or the executive branch of our government."

Sen. Smith went on to say, "I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some real soul searching and to weigh our consciences as to the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America . . . I think that it is high time that we remembered that we have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution."

In 1974, then-Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., the author of "Conscience of a Conservative," and former Republican presidential candidate, led a small delegation to meet with Richard Nixon in the wake of the release of the White House Watergate tapes.

Goldwater, speaking at a Senate Republican lunch, was quoted, "There are only so many lies you can take, and now there has been one too many. Nixon should get his a** out of the White House — today!"

At the White House meeting, Goldwater told Nixon if he persisted, the House would impeach him and the Senate was virtually certain to convict.

Nixon, the next day, announced his resignation from office.

Today Republican senators stand silent. Where are the present-day profiles in courage?

Republican senators: The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Richard A. Arenberg is a Visiting Professor of the Practice of Political Science and a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. He worked for Sens. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, for 34 years. He served on the Senate Iran-Contra Committee in 1987. Arenberg is the author of "Congressional Procedure: A Practical Guide to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress" which won the Benjamin Franklin Book Award in Political & Current Events for 2019. He is co-author of the award-winning "Defending the Filibuster: Soul of the Senate" named "Book of the Year in Political Science" by Foreword Reviews in 2012. A 2nd edition was published in 2014. The U.S. Senate Historical Office published "Richard A. Arenberg: Oral History Interviews" in 2011. He serves on the Board of Directors of Social Security Works and the Social Security Education Fund. He is an affiliate at the Taubman Center for American Politics & Policy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Providence Journal, and The Boston Globe. He is a Contributor at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter: @richarenberg. To read more of his reports


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