At News & Observer news columnist Ruth Sheehan’s blog a reader made a comment that began:
The book "Profiles in Courage" doesn't include a chapter about men refusing to speak out about behavior that is unfit for a university student, an NCAA athlete, and a honorable person in general.The person is right. There’s no such chapter in then Senator John F. Kennedy’s book, a tribute to U. S. Senators who’d shown extraordinary political courage by facing public wrath in order to uphold vital principles.
But there is in Kennedy's book Chapter 9, which begins:
The late Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio was never President of the United States. Therein lies his personal tragedy. And therein lies his national greatness.Kennedy went on to tell readers Taft was a warm, friendly man whose word was his bond. He cited many instances of Taft’s political courage before coming to the one he said:
For the Presidency was a goal that Bob Taft pursued throughout his career in the Senate, an ambition that this son of a former President always dreamed of realizing.
As the leading exponent of the Republican philosophy for more than a decade, "Mr. Republican" was bitterly disappointed by his failure on three different occasions even to receive the nomination.
But Robert A. Taft was also a man who stuck fast to the basic principles in which he believed--and when fundamental principles were at issue, not even the lure of the White House, or the possibilities of injuring his candidacy, could deter him from speaking out.
He was an able politician, but on more than one occasion chose to speak out in defense of a position no politician with like ambitions would have endorsed.
“did not change history (but) as a piece of sheer candor in a period when candor was out of favor, as a bold plea for justice in a time of intolerance and hostility,(is) worth remembering here.”The future President was talking about October 1946, when, with congressional elections just weeks away and hoping to win his party’s 1948 presidential nomination, Taft took the hugely unpopular step of speaking out against the Nuremberg war crimes trials of Nazi leaders and the impending trials of Japanese leaders.
To help his readers understand why Taft did that, Kennedy first quoted a Supreme Court justice, and then explained what the Constitution meant to Taft:
"No matter how many books are written or briefs filed," Supreme Court justice William 0. Douglas has recently written, "no matter how finely the lawyers analyzed it, the crime for which the Nazis were tried had never been formalized as a crime with the definiteness required by our legal standards, nor outlawed with a death penalty by the international community. By our standards that crime arose under an ex post facto law. Goering et al. deserved severe punishment. But their guilt did not justify us in substituting power for principle."…Taft favored exiling the Axis war leaders as was done with Napoleon.
The Constitution of the United States was the gospel which guided the policy decisions of the Senator from Ohio. It was his source, his weapon and his salvation. And when the Constitution commanded no "ex post facto laws," Bob Taft accepted this precept as permanently wise and universally applicable.
The Constitution was not a collection of loosely given political promises subject to broad interpretation. It was not a list of pleasing platitudes to be set lightly aside when expediency required it. It was the foundation of the American system of law and justice.
Kennedy reminded his readers that in 1942 Taft was the only Senator to speak out against the interment Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent. He insisted they were entitled to presumption of innocence and due process.
There are many people here in Durham who will tell you they believe in presumption of innocence and due process, but they also want to know why Duke lacrosse players aren’t “sitting in jail right now.”
What’s more, they say by exercising their right to remain silent, the players are “telling us they’re guilty or know who are.”
A attorney friend calls such people “occasional constitutionalists.”
Senator Taft was never one of those. Neither was President Kennedy. Remember all those times when anger and violence flared during the civil rights struggles?
President Kennedy told us the Constitution was meant to guard us all and that could best happen if we let the law take its course.
Profiles in Courage is available in many book stores, most libraries and online.