Then-Sen. John F Kennedy wrote admiringly in his 1955 book, "Profiles in Courage," about Republican U.S. Sen. Edmund G. Ross of Kansas. In 1868, in a decision Ross knew would end his political career, he broke with his party to vote against the impeachment of then-President Andrew Johnson, the Tennessee Democrat who had succeeded the martyred Abraham Lincoln. By Ross's lone vote, the Republican Senate failed to convict and remove President Johnson. But Ross, who would never again win an election, understood what the vote meant for his own fate: "I almost literally looked down into my open grave," he would write.
Based upon observing the Republican U.S. Senate in 2019, during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump, I can assure the American book publishers that, sadly, there is neither the subject matter nor the need for anyone to write a new edition of "Profiles in Courage." You will find no contemporary Edmund Ross in that body.
In fact, after listening to the seemingly endless debate about national health care policy, about whether we need it, can afford it, deserve it or really want it, I am left with one question — inspired by the depressing sight of GOP senators rationalizing, ignoring and minimizing President Trump's actions, lies and insults: Does your proposed health care plan cover vertebrae transplants? Why? Because the Senate Republican Caucus desperately needs a backbone.
Riveting events in London occurred when authentic Conservatives in the House of Commons, some 21 of them, showed the counterfeit conservatives in the Senate what it means to vote with your conscience and not your cowardice. Because these Conservatives believed that their own prime minister's plan to withdraw their country from the European Union with no deal constitutes a mortal economic threat to the UK, they, in the tradition of Kansas Republican Edmund Ross, collectively dared to stare into their "open grave."
These 21 Conservatives knew the consequences of their standing up and putting country over party — just as former Republican Senate Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee dared to do when he co-chaired the Senate committee whose hearings eventually led to the impeachment of Republican President Richard M. Nixon. The Conservatives felt the wrath and the fury of their prime minister and his loyalists.
The 21, including Winston Churchill's grandson, were banished from the Conservative Party and from public office. Conviction and conscience required them to pay a severe, public price. But they, unlike American Senate Republicans who, in private conversations, whisper about the lunatic behavior of their Republican chief executive, can look themselves, their children and their countrymen straight in the eye and say, "I did what I believe is and was in the best interests of the country we love."
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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