I've come to expect politicians to act like politicians. I know what they say about laws and sausages, and I accept the fact that at times there have to be compromises. But sometimes a critical moment comes when we really need our representatives to rise above politics and do the right thing, even if it's not politically smart.
I remember how I felt when the Iraq War resolution was being considered. I remember pacing the floor in our den while I listened to the radio. I couldn't believe that Congress was seriously considering the president's proposal to start a war unilaterally against a country that had not attacked us nor threatened us. How could we set such a dangerous and immoral precedent? I figured that some of the legislators really did want to go to war, but I strongly suspected that there were others who knew it was wrong but were afraid of being painted as "soft on terrorism" by war hawks who were capitalizing on a zeitgeist of fear and the confusion some Americans had about who's who between bad guys overseas. I saw it as a defining moment, one where you see what a leader is really made of.
I felt helpless thinking that the people who were supposed to represent me could cave in to political pressures at a time when we so desperately needed them to stand for what was right. Before the vote, I told myself: Anyone who votes 'yes' on this has got to go. What I meant by that was that they needed to get the boot from Congress; it hadn't occurred to me that some of those people would later be running for the presidency. My vote for our commander-in-chief will not go to anyone who either sincerely believes in pre-emptive war or was spineless enough to go along with one. That's why I didn't vote for John Kerry, would not have voted for John Edwards, and will not vote for Hillary Clinton. It's also the reason why I was glad to be able to vote to re-elect Barbara Boxer to the Senate in 2004. Despite the fact that we disagree strongly on some things, such as abortion, she had the courage to stand by her convictions and vote against the war.
I've had this blogpost halfway composed in my head for over a week, but I hadn't made the time to sit down and finish it. Then yesterday I happened to see something at the library that finally got me back to it. I was glancing at the section of biographies for kids when I saw a name that always stops me in my tracks -- Jeannette Rankin. Even though she knew that her votes against war would doom her political career, she would not go against her principles. After her vote against entering World War I she said, "I'm not interested in that ["that" being the question of how her vote would affect her chances at re-election]. All I am interested in is what they will say fifty years from now." Those votes were her defining moments, and she rose to them.
It's wonderful that she broke the gender barrier in Congress, but that's not the thing that makes her so special to me. Her willingness to stand alone was what had me suddenly shedding tears right there in the middle of the San Pedro library. We need more leaders like that.