Character sketches of 14 men and women who have won the Profiles in Courage Award, which recognizes elected officials who “stood fast for the ideals of America.”
Gratifyingly, this is not just another collection of eulogies; some of the winners have blots on their political escutcheons that are duly noted. Nor will all readers agree on the worthiness of each recipient, as the obvious case of Gerald Ford attests. Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon “was the only way of ending the public and media obsession with his predecessor’s future,” Bob Woodward unconvincingly claims, begging the point that the obsession arose from concern over the consequences of illegal acts in high office and the impeccable standards to which citizens (we hope) hold those who hold office. Other winners are more obviously laudable, such as Texas Representative Henry B. Gonzalez, who fought Jim Crow laws in his home state and “totally resisted the prevailing slickness that was debasing our politics,” as Pete Hamill puts it. Corkin Cherubini, captured by Marion Wright Edelman, fought race-based tracking (“a kind of educational apartheid”) as superintendent of Georgia’s public schools. California Senator Hilda Solis, profiled by Anthony Walton, constructed legal guidelines that identified and mitigated “the negative environmental and health effects of pollution and waste-disposal facilities on low-income and minority populations.” An example of a fence-straddler is Carl Elliott Sr., congressman from Alabama. As Michael Beschloss writes, much can be said for Elliott’s “aid-to-education bill,” which sought to bring equality to the Alabama school system. Yet he also signed the notorious “Southern Manifesto” and truckled to George Wallace’s racist politics.
By and large, a refreshing sampling of political legacies cleaving to the notion of equality and justice on behalf of the weak and exploited.