Long ago, when he was readying himself to run for president, John F. Kennedy authored a book, Profiles in Courage.
I use the word “authored” because the evidence demonstrates that his longtime speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, did most of the writing. JFK’s primary contributions to the project involved coming up with the concept, deciding the end product was good and, last, putting his name on the title page.
The book told the stories of political leaders who had demonstrated a certain kind of courage. They took stands on principle that carried political risks and then explained those stands to the voters. The book celebrated the process of enlightened self-government in which bold and brave elected officials rally an open-minded citizenry to defeat ignorance and bigotry.
As pictures of America go, it’s among the most flattering.
No wonder it was a best seller, a Pulitzer Prize winner and still is a staple of middle-school required reading lists.
But it has long called for a companion volume, a bookend of sorts that could be called Profiles in Cowardice.
This book would feature those political leaders who are too terrified to explain themselves to the citizens they represent.
Indiana has many elected officials who could fill the pages.
U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Indiana, has turned ducking debates into a kind of elevated performance art.
Two years ago, when he faced Democrat Shelli Yoder – whose debating skills fell far short of the Lincoln-Douglas level – in the state’s Ninth District, Hollingsworth refused to participate in a debate at Franklin College because the Libertarian candidate had been arrested following a dispute involving a traffic stop in Kentucky.
Assuming the role of both prosecutor and judge, Hollingsworth’s campaign said it would be wrong for him to share a debate stage with someone who assaulted a police officer.
The charges later were dismissed.
This time around, when group after group has approached Hollingsworth with invitations to debate, his staff’s response has been, “Talk to the hand.”
Hollingsworth is not alone.
His fellow congressman, U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Indiana, has refused to participate in a debate organized by The Evansville Courier & Press to be televised on a station in his district. Bucshon said the voters know where he stands.
Maybe, but they still might want to have him explain the tax cuts that will add $1 trillion to the national debt – a deficit that used to be of great concern to the congressman and his base – or where he stands on plans to strip another 18 million Americans of health coverage in the name of “reforming” health care.
These were the top priorities for Bucshon and his party – and, in the case of the tax cuts, a public policy victory they touted as a tremendous achievement.
One would think he’d be eager to talk with voters about those things.
The best profile in cowardice, though, must belong to Indiana Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville.
Tomes also has refused to participate in the Courier & Press debate, which will include many candidates from both political parties in many races in southwest Indiana.
Tomes’ reason for not showing up?
The Courier & Press has published letters to the editor from citizens in his district that haven’t been nice. In fact, several of the letters have hurt his feelings.
I’m not making this up.
That’s what he said.
One hopes that, should he be re-elected this fall, Tomes, who is 70, will set a personal goal for himself in this year’s legislative session and learn to cross the street without holding his mother’s hand.
I could go on and pull up other names, but to do so is just too depressing.
The book that Ted Sorenson wrote, and John F. Kennedy authored, featured eight profiles in courage and ran to a little more than 250 pages.
Sadly, Indiana’s contribution to Profiles in Cowardice could be just as long.
But not nearly so uplifting.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.