“Profiles in Courage,” written by then–Sen. John F. Kennedy, highlighted people who went against the grain and against their party and took actions of political courage. As the vote on health care comes up this week, there are going to be examples of both Democrats and even a Republican or two who vote for the bill even though it might mean losing their seat or losing the support of their party. Sometimes, even into today’s climate, people are willing to stick their neck out and do something they believe in. There will also be some Democrats who are willing to get the ire of their party for voting against the bill, believing that single payer is the way to go and that this bill does not meet the needs of the American people.
Going against the grain is rare in American politics. I was reminded of this by seeing “Capitalism, A Love Affair,” Michael Moore’s most recent film. I didn’t get to see it in the theaters but saw it on DVD, and I cheered as Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke truths that no one wanted to hear.
I am from Ohio and although I left when I was 14, I always return there with a sense of pride knowing that Ohio folks have a special ability to touch on the values that are important to all Americans. Kaptur’s speech deserves a Profile in Courage Award because what she said was quite bold, even if it went unnoticed by most of the press.
When the first part of the bailout occurred, Marcy Kaptur’s speech on the floor of the House went right after former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. “Instead of prosecuting those who stole from us, Secretary Paulson wants us to reward his former colleagues for their bad decisions, abusive and unlawful practices,” she said.
Kaptur continued, “While my constituents are struggling to pay their gas bills, we should recall fondly the record annual bonuses Secretary Paulson’s alma mater, Goldman Sachs, gave less than two years ago. In 2006, that investment house alone paid $16.5 billion in compensation to its employees averaging more than $600,000 per employee. In fact, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein got $53.4 million that year. And Bear Stearns chief executive officer, the company that the Fed just bailed out with our money, James E. Cayne, got a stock bonus that year worth $14.8 million. Merrill Lynch chief executive officer Stanley O’Neal, he got $35.4 million. Think about this, America.”
Kucinich also weighed in on the bailout, pointing to the fact that helping out people with their mortgages would have made a huge difference (and would most likely have saved the banks at the same time). “The public is being led to believe that Congress has reconsidered its position because we have before us a better bill than we had a few days ago. It is the same bill plus hundreds of new pages for hundreds of millions of tax breaks. What does this have to do with the troubles of Wall Street?
“Driven by fear we are moving quickly to pass a bill, which may produce a temporary uptick for the market, but nothing for millions of homeowners whose misfortunes are at the center of our economic woes. People do not have money to pay their mortgages. After this passes, they will still not have money to pay their mortgages. People will still lose their homes while Wall Street is bailed out,” said Kucinich.
Sanders went against the prevailing wisdom, saying, “While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.”
These three members of Congress said things that were quite shocking for elected officials to say during the worst financial crises this country had in decades. It took guts and courage. This week should bring forth both speeches and votes that take political courage. This will not be easy to do but necessary for the American people and our democracy.