John Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. It tells the stories of eight U.S. senators who displayed acts of political bravery in the face of party or constituent opposition.
Of political party loyalty, Kennedy wrote: “When party and officeholder differ as to how the national interest is to be served, we must place first the responsibility we owe not to our party or even to our constituents but to our individual consciences.”
On the necessity of political parties to tolerate divergent views, Kennedy quotes Sen. Albert Beveridge: “A party can live only by growing, intolerance of ideas brings its death. An organization that depends upon reproduction only for its vote, son taking the place of father, is not a political party, but a Chinese tong; not citizens brought together by thought and conscience, but an Indian tribe held together by blood and prejudice.”
One of those profiled in the book was Sen. John Quincy Adams. Even though they were political opponents, Adams was the only Federalist in the Senate to support President Jefferson’s treaty for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. He voted to appropriate $11 million for that purchase. This outraged party leaders and made him extremely unpopular within his party.
He wrote about this experience in his diary: “I have already had occasion to experience, which I had before the fullest reason to expect, the danger of adhering to my own principles. The country is so totally given up to the spirit of party that not to follow blindfolded the one or the other is an expiable offense.”
His final break with the Federalists occurred when he again supported President Jefferson against the wishes of his party. In retaliation for British aggressions on American ships, Adams supported an embargo bill preventing British vessels from entering American waters. This bill was economically harmful to his home state of Massachusetts in that it destroyed the shipping trade with Britain and shutdown the shipbuilding industry. Farmers, merchants and seamen in Massachusetts were all unhappy with the embargo.
The Salem Gazette called Adams “a popularity seeker … courting the prevailing party,” and one of “Bonaparte’s Senators.” The Greenfield Gazette called him an apostate “associated with the assassins of his father’s character.” At the height of his unpopularity, Adams received this message from his father, former President John Adams: “You are supported by no party; you have too honest a heart, too independent a mind, and too brilliant talents, to be sincerely and confidentially trusted by any man who is under the domination of party maxims or party feelings. You may depend upon it then that your fate is decided. You ought to know and expect this and by no means regret it. My advice to you is steadily to pursue the course you are in, with moderation and caution however, because I think it the path of justice.”
Nine months before his term was to expire, the Massachusetts legislature elected a successor for Adams and passed resolutions instructing its Senators to vote to repeal the embargo. Adams believed he had no other choice but to resign from the Senate saying: “ I will only add, that, far from regretting any one of those acts for which I have suffered, I would do them over again, were they now to be done, at the hazard of ten times as much slander, unpopularity, and displacement.” Adams would go on to become the sixth president of the United States as a Democratic-Republican. Later, he would return to Congress representing the Plymouth District until his death in 1848.
If a new version of “Profiles in Courage” were to be published, it should include three Republican senators who prevented the devastation to the American healthcare system that all other Republican senators voted in favor of. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona had the wisdom and courage to defy party leaders and join with all 48 Democratic senators to kill this atrocious legislation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 16 million Americans could lose their health insurance by 2026 under the skinny repeal and insurance premiums would be 20 percent higher each year than under Obamacare.
A bipartisan group of ten governors encouraged the Senate to reject the skinny repeal. The letter addressed to Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer read in part:
“As the Senate debates the House-passed American Health Care Act, we urge you to set aside this flawed bill and work with governors, both Democrats and Republicans, on solutions that will make health care more available and affordable for every American. True, lasting reforms can only be achieved in an open, bipartisan fashion.
We agree with Sen. John McCain that the Senate should “return to regular order,” working across the aisle to “provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today.”
Congress should be working to make health insurance more affordable while stabilizing the health insurance market, but this bill and similar proposals won’t accomplish these goals. The bill still threatens coverage for millions of hardworking, middle class Americans. The bill’s Medicaid provisions shift costs to states and fail to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, including the working poor or those suffering from mental illness or addiction. The Senate should also reject efforts to amend the bill into a ‘skinny repeal’ which is expected to accelerate health plans leaving the individual market, increase premiums, and result in fewer Americans having access to coverage…”
High pressure and possibly illegal tactics were applied to Lisa Murkowski, in particular, by the Trump Administration. Both Alaska senators received phone calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke warning that Alaska’s standing with the Trump administration depended on the outcome of the health care vote.
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said afterward: “I’m not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs, and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop.”
The Alaska Dispatch News reports: “Efforts and issues on the line include nominations of Alaskans to Interior posts, an effort to build a road out of King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and future opportunities to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expand drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, among other regulatory issues that are a priority for Murkowski and Sullivan.”
When Murkowski voted against a previous attempt to repeal Obamacare, President Trump had expressed his unhappiness on Twitter: “Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”
Murkowki responded to these pressure tactics, saying; “I base my votes on what I believe is in Alaska’s best interest. So I know that there are those who wish that I would be more in line with following the party platform, but I don’t think it should come as any surprise that there have been occasions that I have not followed the lead of the party.”
While Murkowski, Collins and McCain should be applauded for standing up to the president and party bosses by doing the right thing, Arkansas Sens. Cotton and Boozman should be called to account for their irresponsible votes.
Govtrack.us ranks Cotton as the 10th most conservative senator and Boozman as the 13th most conservative.
In the healthcare debate, both clearly placed ideology and party allegiance over the best interests of their constituents. As representatives of Arkansas, their actions can in no way be construed as being for the good of the people of Arkansas. Instead of calling them Arkansas representatives, these two senators could more accurately be described as Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s puppets.