Liz Cheney was recently nominated for the Profiles in Courage Award. This award is given to recognize displays of courage similar to those John F. Kennedy originally described in his 1956 book, Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize. This award is given to “individuals who, by acting in accord with their conscience, risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other local interests.”
In his book, Kennedy included biographies of eight U.S. Senators and described their acts of bravery and integrity. All of these senators, who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right, were roundly criticized and suffered losses in popularity because of the stands they took. The first of those was John Quincey Adams, a senator from Massachusetts, who switched parties in the early 1800s after supporting efforts in Congress to enact an embargo against Great Britain to shut off international trade to retaliate against British aggression towards American merchant ships, which would have had a disastrous effect upon the economy of his home state. A storm of protest ensued and Adams resigned from his seat in 1808.
The most recent senator featured in JFK’s book was Robert A. Taft, an Ohio Senator who became known as “Mr. Republican” for helping to rebuild his party after the Great Depression and the Democratic dominance of the New Deal years. Unfortunately for him, in 1946 he strongly opposed the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials believing that the defendants in those trials were being tried under ex post facto laws, which are expressly forbidden in the U.S. Constitution. He was condemned in the press, by his constituents and by his fellow senators. The reaction to this speech is believed to have led to his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1948. For Taft, his strongly held belief in the wisdom of the Constitution was more important than his political ambitions.
In nominating for Liz Cheney for the prestigious Profile in Courage Award, one of her House colleagues said: “There is no greater principle or ideal in America than the principle put forth by our founding fathers: democracy – a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’ . . . [I]n the face of violence and vitriol, one woman stood fast against the Big Lie and those who attacked the Capitol in order to overturn a free and fair election. She had a lot to lose, and she still might lose her seat in office, but Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) refused to be bullied or threatened.”
Cheney’s Republican credentials are impressive. She served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the George W. Bush administration and, more recently, chaired the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in the House Republican leadership, from 2019 to 2021. In addition, she voted with Trump 92.9 percent of the time while he was in office.
However, Cheney’s strong Republican credentials came crashing down when she had the audacity to vote to impeach President Trump. For starters, she was stripped of the chair of the House Republican Conference and was replaced by a congresswoman from New York whose support of Trump much less than Cheney. Then, she came under attack from Republican leaders in Wyoming when several Republican County central committees, as well as the state central committee, censured her for her lack of loyalty to Trump. Finally, the State Central Committee voted to kick her out of the Republican party. All this happened in spite of her winning House race in 2020 by about the same margin as Trump did, which was nearly 70%, not to mention her voting record being in strong support of Trump as well as being one of the leaders in Congress.
When Cheney took her bold and courageous stand, she had to know that she was taking on a Republican Party captivated by Trump, not to mention serving in Congress from Wyoming, a state where Trump is embraced like no other political figure. But, as she said, “The Republican Party has to make a choice. We can either be loyal to our Constitution or loyal to Donald Trump, but we cannot be both”. She chose the former at her political peril.
In Liz Cheney, we have someone who stood on principle – the Constitution, at the expense of popularity or her political career. Had JFK written his book in 2021 and included people other than U.S. Senators, I have no doubt but that Liz Cheney’s biography would have been included. Her actions are the embodiment a profile in courage.