When Courage Was No Stranger to Politics

Spirituality at sunsetWhen NFL commissioner Roger Goodell treated domestic violence lightly, he was straying far from the path of his father’s footsteps. The contrasting behavior of son and father provides a prism through which we can see more clearly the distemper of our times.

Charles Goodell, Roger’s father, had been appointed to replace Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, as Senator from New York.  The following year, Senator  Goodell spoke  out against the war in Vietnam, which was then the stepchild of   Richard Nixon’s White House.  Goodell and the president  were both Republicans, but  Nixon,  famous for his vindictiveness, opposed Goodell’s election campaign.  Vice President Agnew weighed in with some of his typically scurrilous attacks.   Charles Goodell lost his bid to return to the Senate, and the White House had one fewer critic.

If the contrast of  Senator Goodell’s principled  stand with his son’s attempted evasion is seen as  primarily a personal difference, we overlook a significant cultural shift.   Charles Goodell’s forthright and risky  stand was memorable, but not unique in his day.  Democratic senators criticized Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s policy in Vietnam, and incurred his wrath.  In an action  that would be unthinkable today, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a conservative  Democrat, held televised  hearings on the war, which included experts who strongly disagreed with President Johnson’s policy.  Such fidelity to the Constitutional role of Congress seems almost quaint in the 21st century.

In American history, though certainly not recently, it has been accepted that  some political leaders would dissent from their party on critical issues.  The political world attracted people, particularly those inspired by  John Kennedy’s leadership, who felt that public service was a calling.  The country’s interest was better  served, as partisanship gave way to principle at crucial times—as it did in Senator Goodell’s dissent.  Ironically, four years after Goodell felt the White House’s ire, Republican Congressmen played a key role in impeaching Nixon for his misdeeds, including an overzealous targeting of his political “enemies.”

Today, the contagion of opportunism extends far beyond the offices of the NFL. As Roger Goodell put the NFL’s bottom line above principle, so our current crop of politicians put party loyalty above their Constitutional role. There are no Senator Goodells in Washington now, and the country is far poorer for it.  Recent experience shows that our democracy cannot  function without a  contingent of men and women who will dissent from their party when they feel it necessary for the good of the country.  By making the Senator  Goodells of our political system an extinct species, the destructive partisanship of our times puts democracy itself at peril.

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2 thoughts on “When Courage Was No Stranger to Politics

  1. Ali

    There have been some reports of sponsors voicing concerns and even stopping their relationships with certain players. In that context I wonder if Goodell Jnr was not just plain daft…

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