Every 12 months the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum offers out a Profile in Courage Award, named for JFK’s 1957 book spotlighting eight senators who took unpopular, politically tough positions within the curiosity of the general public good.
This 12 months’s winner is Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the JFK Library introduced late final month. The honor is for Romney’s promotion of democracy and the rule of regulation, at a time when each had been underneath assault from President Donald Trump and almost all of his fellow Republicans.
Usually the award ceremony takes place on the library, with a full viewers and a member of the Kennedy household available to current it. This 12 months’s occasion will probably be digital due to the coronavirus pandemic. And that’s a disgrace.
Standing on a stage in Boston with a member of the Kennedy household would have reprised one of the vital vital moments of Romney’s political profession: the signing of a 2006 law that introduced almost common well being care to Massachusetts.
Romney, who as governor had been the invoice’s most outstanding architect and advocate, was the star of the present. But at his facet was Ted Kennedy, the longtime Democratic senator, a brother of JFK and an icon of American liberalism.
Romney and Kennedy had labored collectively on the reforms, and, on the ceremony, Romney was pleased to speak about their collaboration. He already harbored presidential ambitions and, again then, an elected official might make a reputation for himself within the Republican Party by demonstrating his capability to craft landmark laws.
But that was a really completely different period.
An Unlikely Partnership, From A Different Era
The alliance between Ted Kennedy and Romney was at all times unbelievable, no less than to those that didn’t know both man. A decade earlier, Romney had challenged and almost crushed Kennedy in a brutal Senate campaign. He’d then gone on to wage a profitable marketing campaign for Massachusetts governor.
But Kennedy didn’t maintain grudges. He additionally believed that the one technique to go formidable liberal reforms was via compromise. One of his greatest regrets from public life was not pushing more durable to dealer a take care of then-President Richard Nixon, who within the early Nineteen Seventies had proposed a conservative well being plan that may have led to most Americans getting insurance coverage.
Although Romney’s scheme for attaining quasi-universal protection wasn’t the one Kennedy would have chosen, he wasn’t about to go up one other alternative. He helped Romney get particular regulatory approval that the plan wanted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, then lobbied liberal allies in Massachusetts to get behind the initiative.
At the signing ceremony, Kennedy joked about their partnership and predicted that the regulation would turn out to be a template for nationwide reforms. He was proper. The Massachusetts reform scheme was a mannequin for the Affordable Care Act, which turned regulation 4 years later.
Inspiring “Obamacare” had not been Romney’s purpose, after all, and there’s no proof that serving to the uninsured was even his motivation. But Romney was an issue solver, going again to his days as a marketing consultant after which head of Bain Capital. And as a newly elected governor, he rapidly found that the state’s greatest funds problem was sustaining its excessive spending on well being care.
After devouring spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks, and quizzing coverage experts who gave him lengthy briefings, he settled on the quasi-universal coverage scheme as a result of it appeared extra environment friendly than subsidizing charity care at hospitals, because the state had historically executed.
Then he negotiated with Democrats, together with not simply Kennedy but in addition leaders within the state legislature, as a result of it was the one technique to go laws.
The Republican Fringe, Then And Now
In selling the well being care plan and ignoring political advisers who warned that a few of its features would possibly alienate anti-government conservatives, Romney was following within the footsteps of one other Republican politician who had, in related vogue, damaged with extra ideologically minded members of his social gathering.
That Republican was Romney’s father, George, the previous governor of Michigan.
As a rising star within the Nineteen Sixties, George Romney had fought with members of his social gathering who had been lining up in opposition to civil rights and declaring conflict on the “welfare state.” In a well-known 1964 GOP convention speech, he warned that these fringe parts had been changing into too influential. Mitt, then simply 17, watched the speech from the front row.
George Romney misplaced that struggle and, a half-century later, the heirs to that fringe motion have taken over the GOP, though nowadays it generally appears to be as a lot a cult of character round Trump as it’s a triumph of right-wing governing philosophy. The level is to get and to maintain energy, and if that requires flouting the rule of regulation or fundamental rules of democracy, Republicans usually don’t appear troubled by it.
But Mitt Romney does, and he has acted on that impulse repeatedly since changing into a senator from Utah in 2018. He voted to take away Trump twice, the primary time for abuse of energy throughout the Russia investigation and the second time for incitement of riot in an try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He additionally voted to certify the Electoral College outcomes on Jan. 6, the professional forma motion Congress was taking up the day of the riot.
Those votes earned Romney grief from Trump and his supporters ― in a single occasion, captured on video after which unfold virally over social media, whereas Romney was on the airport ready for his flight upfront of the Jan. 6 certification.
When a Trump supporter requested him if he was ready to reject the election outcomes as a result of Democrats had supposedly stolen the election, the unfailingly civil Romney replied, “No, I’m not.”
“We have a Constitution, and the constitutional process is clear, and I will follow the Constitution,” Romney mentioned. “And then I will explain all that when we meet in Congress.”
The Future For Romney And His Party
It’s arduous to determine what place Romney has within the Republican Party going ahead.
Trump has left the White House, however his presence nonetheless hovers over the social gathering. And though the Republican caucuses in Congress are smaller following the 2020 losses, they’re additionally extra excessive, each philosophically and temperamentally. Only a handful joined Romney in voting to take away Trump the second time, although the trial got here simply weeks after rioters actually threatened their lives.
Romney’s problem-solving angle additionally feels anachronistic. Back in 2006, he imagined the Massachusetts well being care regulation as a signature accomplishment on which he might base a future run for president. But when he turned the GOP nominee in 2012, he needed to distance himself from the plan as a result of mere affiliation with Obamacare had turn out to be such a political legal responsibility amongst Republicans.
More just lately, Romney has been amongst a small group of Republicans reaching out to the Biden administration over coverage initiatives, together with a “child allowance.” But most Republicans, together with caucus leaders, aren’t partaking critically on coverage and focusing extra power on “cancel culture.”
This might be a reasonably good glimpse into Romney’s political future and, relaxation assured, he will probably be simply superb. He is a really rich man, and his Senate seat might be protected, though right-wing activists in Utah have been identified to punish principled conservatives who deviate from the social gathering line.
But the truth that Romney’s vote even calls for recognition for braveness says so much about what the Republican Party has turn out to be. Many Republicans will converse privately about their distaste at Trump’s conduct and contempt for democracy, and can fear about what the social gathering has turn out to be. They simply received’t say so publicly.
They are profiles in cowardice, and there’s no award for that ― simply the tough verdict of historical past.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up for membership to turn out to be a founding member and assist form HuffPost’s subsequent chapter