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Courage

Commentary By Susan Estrich

Friday, August 22, 2008

Political courage is not about standing up for what's easy and popular with the people who elect you. It's about standing up for what you believe in.

Stephanie Tubbs Jones believed in Hillary Clinton. She believed Hillary was the most qualified, most able candidate running for president. So did half of the Democrats in Congress, but it was a much easier choice for most of them.

Tubbs Jones was African-American. She represented an overwhelmingly African-American district in Cleveland. Obama was the choice of her district, although not her state. Many of her constituents thought she was wrong, and worse, for supporting Hillary.

It should not have taken courage for Stephanie to support Hillary. She knew her and respected her. But it did, more than most people realize. During the campaign, I heard from friends that Tubbs Jones and Sheila Jackson-Lee, another prominent African-American Hillary supporter, were being attacked, viciously, within the black community for not supporting Barack Obama, that there was talk of their being "traitors," of primary opponents, personal threats serious enough to require additional security. I would have written about it, but my friends asked me not to, fearing it would only make people angrier and lead to more threats.

Tubbs Jones died this week after a sudden brain aneurysm. Reading the comments generated by Hilary Rosen's moving tribute to the late congresswoman on the HuffingtonPost, I couldn't help but notice how many made reference not to her fight for a higher minimum wage, her battle to prevent cuts to Medicare or her chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee, but to her support for Hillary. Some people were willing to "forgive" her, at least in death. But others weren't. There was talk about how wrong she was, and about how she might have been defeated in the fall -- and deserved to be -- because of her choice. Months after she announced that the party should unify behind Obama, and even in death, there was anger from those who had once admired and respected her.

Why did she need "forgiveness"? Exactly what did she do that was "wrong"?

The very idea that a politician, or a citizen, should support a candidate because of race is precisely what Obama is running against. If this is a contest in which we all vote our race, McCain wins and Obama loses. The Obama campaign at its best has been about transcending race, not defining loyalty on racial lines and punishing those who stray.

Reality is a different matter, and Stephanie Tubbs Jones knew that. But she still stood up for Hillary. She did not waver when it became clear that there would be a price to pay.

When I was a kid, I memorized a poem by Rudyard Kipling called "If." I used to recite it to myself when I hit the hard days in politics, and I thought of this excerpt when I heard of Tubbs Jones' death and read the comments from those she had fought for with such energy and determination:

Rudyard Kipling was writing about the making of a Man, but it is really the making of a person of integrity and valor, which is precisely what Stephanie Tubbs Jones was. She kept her head about her. She trusted her judgment, even under attack. She was willing to take risks for what she believed in. She was a Woman, and a great one.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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