Courage is an interesting thing. Some people have more than others. First responders and military personnel regularly put their lives on the line for their communities and countries. Parents routinely risk their own safety and security to protect their children. What about the courage of an abused woman who chooses to leave a terrible situation and start over with nothing? How about that person who changes careers in mid-life to try and build something better? There are countless stories of individual acts of courage all around us.
Believe it or not, there are even stories of political courage. They are rare, but real nonetheless.
In 1950, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith gave an impassioned speech known as “Declaration of Conscience”, loudly criticizing Joseph McCarthy’s shameful anti-communism crusade. It angered many in her own party, but she didn’t care. She wanted the world to hear her say that McCarthyism was wrong…and they did. It cost her position and prestige within her party, but she spoke the truth and fought the wrongs. For her, that was enough.
We now have an impeachment inquiry underway in Washington. We have a partial transcript of a phone conversation that reads quite a bit like a good old fashioned Tony Soprano shakedown, attempting to get a foreign government to open an unwarranted investigation into an American political opponent. The accompanying “whistleblower report” is even more damaging, with recordings and transcripts being hidden in highly secure areas and the President’s personal attorney running around the world looking for foreign assistance for the 2020 election, in clear violation of federal election law.
At this early stage, it is possible that the “whistleblower” document is inaccurate. However, it is interesting that no one has yet claimed that it was inaccurate. There are witnesses and documents that need to be produced so that the investigation is thorough. This is not a process to be taken lightly, but it also need not take months. The Attorney General William Barr, Rudy Giuliani, persons who were listening in on the call,
But ask yourself this question: if the worst aspects of this entire affair prove true, will it matter? If the President ordered the military aid for Ukraine to be held in waiting until he made his demands and saw their reaction, would that move Republican senators to action? For some I think the answer is clear. Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell and others long ago surrendered any pretense of giving a damn about the country when it comes to partisan advantage. If things get Nixonian, will any of the GOP senators have the political courage to do what Republicans did in 1974, and tell the President that resignation is his only option? It would take 20 Republicans switching over to provide the margin needed for removal. Is it even possible that the number could get anywhere near the necessary level?
What about the Alabama delegation? In the House, forget it. None of them would know how to do anything except vote party-line. In the Senate, however, it could get interesting. Democrat Doug Jones has gone out of his way, some would say more than necessary, to display a bipartisan attitude. He was recently rated as one of the three most bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate. He will certainly be deliberate about his decision and careful about his words, but one would have to believe that if the evidence says “guilty”, Jones would vote to remove. Republican Richard Shelby could be far more interesting.
In the past, Shelby has shown some independence, refusing to endorse Roy Moore in 2017, even under pressure from the state party (like Terry Latham is really a threat to an old warhorse like Shelby). He is in his 80’s and almost assuredly in his last term, he can be cantankerous and considers himself a “process over party” senator. It is not extremely likely, but certainly possible, that Shelby could break with McConnell if his conscience so leads him. Whatever happens, it will be fascinating, and historic.
It is possible that this fall we could see that rarest of phenomena, real political courage. But I am not betting on it.