Sen. Joe Manchin is a courageous man. He has strong views and hails from a state that values independence. Recently he chose not to support the For the People Act. He also stood up for preserving the Senate filibuster. In both cases he opposed his party’s leaders.
Setting aside the pros or cons of his positions, the vitriol unleashed against him by his fellow Democrats is condemnable. Heaven forbid someone in American politics actually does what he thinks is right.
I know a thing or two about standing up to your own party. I won no friends when, as a Republican member of the House, I led opposition to a President George H.W. Bush’s budget because of its sky-high deficits. My decision as governor to extend Medicaid healthcare benefits to more low-income Ohioans was lambasted by Republicans because of the move’s tie to ObamaCare. My opposition to Donald Trump sparked equal hostility.
What rankled me then, and frustrates me as I watch what’s happening to Mr. Manchin, is that critics always ask the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Why won’t those troublemakers just do as they’re told?” why not think of it this way: “If they’re willing to take this much heat, do they see something I don’t?”
Courage is valued not because it’s common or easy—just the opposite. It brings risks to prosperity, reputation and even life and limb. No one wants to be in that position. Everyone would rather be loved. Therefore, when someone is willing to risk stakes that high, shouldn’t it make us pause for a moment? Taking it a step further, when someone takes a path that potentially comes with high costs, and we only respond with criticism, are we missing something amazing unfolding right before us that we say we value—courage?
All too often we only celebrate courage in the rearview mirror. Change agents like Martin Luther King Jr., Natan Sharanksy and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—opposed by “the system” of the time—could attest to that. Developing the collective wisdom to close the gap between when courageous acts occur and when they’re appreciated could save us all a lot of pain.
Groupthink will never help us come together as a nation. We need to get to a place in politics where courage is valued and standing on principle is rewarded. Those with a different view aren’t right every time. Who is? But dismissing every view that diverges even slightly from your own is no strategy for success.
The courageous are lonely. Mr. Manchin is looking around today wondering where all his friends went. I don’t need to tell you this, Joe, but it’s better to be lonely and right than wrong in a crowd. No one ever changed the world for the better by following a script.
In politics and in life, when we see someone taking a different path, especially a hard and unforgiving road, maybe we shouldn’t rush to doubt his judgment. Instead, maybe we should have the courage to question our own.
View the op-ed in the WSJ here.
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