Former President George H. W. Bush was named this year’s recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ in recognition of the political courage he demonstrated as President when he agreed to a 1990 budget compromise which reversed his 1988 campaign pledge not to raise taxes and put his re-election prospects at risk. Paul W. Bridges, former mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, was also named a Profile in Courage Award recipient for risking his mayoral career with his decision to publicly oppose a controversial immigration law in Georgia.
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions.
There is a subtle tension between an idealized commitment to goals of “doing good” and an idealized goal of “being responsible.” Max Weber creatively transformed this into an important insight about policy and practice, when he articulated a very useful distinction between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility. The crucial point is that one must do the right thing regardless of its consequences.
Throughout his political career, President Kennedy inspired people to work for the benefit of their communities, their country, and their World. He believed that each person can make a difference, and that everyone should tray. In particular, he wanted to restore a belief in politics as a nobel profession and a calling to public service.
“This year’s Profile in Courage Award recipients exemplify what President JF Kennedy most admired in public servants: extraordinary courage in serving the greater good,” said Schlossberg, who is a member of the Profile in Courage Award committee.
“In his first term in office, President George H. W. Bush risked his reputation and ultimately his political career by forging an important compromise on the budget in 1990 that moved our country forward, and should not be forgotten”. Mayor Paul Bridges took a stand on an issue affecting the rights of people in his community and never wavered in the face of fierce criticism.
As my grandfather wrote in Profiles in Courage, ‘we cannot permit the pressures of party responsibility to submerge on every issue the call of personal responsibility.’ President Bush and Paul Bridges both put the public interest ahead of their own political fortunes. We’re thrilled to honor them this year.”
The prestigious award for political courage, announced today by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, will be presented by Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson, at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on May 4, 2014.
- George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States. In 1990, with the federal deficit at $200 billion and the Congressional Budget Office suggesting it could double, President Bush negotiated with congressional Democrats to enact a budget deal which included spending cuts and tax increases aimed at reducing the deficit by approximately $500 billion over the following five years. The 1990 bipartisan budget agreement set annual limits on discretionary spending by Congress on defense, domestic programs and international affairs. It also, for the first time, created “pay as you go” rules for entitlements and taxes.
In order to reach the deal, Bush agreed to a tax increase as part of the compromise, and he was pilloried by conservatives for doing so. Although he recognized the 1990 budget deal might doom his prospects for reelection, he did what he thought was best for the country and has since been credited with helping to lay the foundation of the economic growth of the 1990s that followed.
- Paul W. Bridges, Former Mayor, Uvalda, Georgia. In 2011, Bridges, then the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, joined a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU to stop the implementation of H.B. 87, a law aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of Georgia. As written, H.B. 87 authorized police to demand “papers” demonstrating immigration status during traffic stops, and criminalized Georgians who knowingly interact with undocumented individuals, among other measures. Bridges, a Republican who was elected mayor in 2009, was the only politician to join the suit.
He argued that the law would inhumanely separate families and was likely to have dire economic consequences for farming. Bridges himself would have been engaged in criminal behavior under the law, he said, because he often gave rides to undocumented immigrants who were his friends. As a result of his decision to publicly oppose the law, Bridges withstood scathing criticism from anti-immigration partisans around the country, and lost popular support at home. The crucial point is that one must do the right thing regardless of its consequences.