Jerry Kremer

Courage is too rare a commodity these days


One of my all-time favorite books was written by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1956, four years before he became president. The book, “Profiles in Courage,” comprised short biographies of eight members of the U.S. Senate who defied their party or their constituents by taking a stand they believed was important on an issue of the day. There are few people in today’s world who have been willing to face the consequences for following their conscience, but those few are worth noting.
At the top of the list are two Republican members of the House of Representatives. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have had the guts and the strength to oppose a president and take a vital role in the current hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Cheney has become a powerful voice in helping the public understand the gravity of what our nation would face if Donald Trump were to again seek public office. She has been fearless and courageous in discussing the significance of the witness testimony, and by using simple terms she has touched a raw public nerve.
Kinzinger has served in the House since 2010. His seat in Congress has been a safe one, and he had no reason to jump ship and take on Trump. Kinzinger became the first Republican to challenge Trump’s claim of voter fraud and attempts to overturn the 2020 election. He not only supported Trump’s impeachment, but also voted for the creation of the Jan. 6 committee. He has chosen to leave office at the end of the year.
Next in line for accolades are the eight other Republican House members who voted for Trump’s impeachment. It takes courage to defy your party and your voters to do the right thing, but they stood up for their beliefs, and most of them are now paying a price. Of the 10, including Cheney and Kinzinger, four are retiring, one lost a primary, one survived a primary and must face voters again in November, and Cheney faces a primary next week.
It isn’t often that the action of a large group of people qualifies as an act of courage, but kudos go to the voters of Kansas, who defied many of their friends and neighbors to stand up for a woman’s right to make a personal choice on whether to have an abortion. Kansas is one of the reddest states in the country, yet somehow, while the opinion polls showed anti-abortion proponents winning, I didn’t believe them. Over the past 10-plus years, lots of opinion polls on political issues and candidates have been wrong, and this vote was a closely guarded voter secret.

The subject of abortion brings to mind one of the few instances in my career in Albany when a member willingly sacrificed his seat, and more, to cast a “yes” vote for legalized abortion. In April 1970, Assemblyman George Michaels, a Democrat from upstate Auburn, sat in the chamber during a highly emotional debate on abortion. Michaels represented a predominantly Catholic district, and his decision to vote to approve the abortion law cost him his seat and his law partnership, along with bitter community blowback.
My last nominated group that has shown the courage of its convictions is the parents of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. These parents will forever suffer over the loss of their children, and they didn’t deserve to become the victims of a conspiracy campaign launched by conservative radio talk show host Alex Jones.
Jones claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and tormented the parents for years, but they refused to accept the taunting. Their defamation lawsuit against Jones has led a jury to award them huge damages.
Courage in today’s world is a rare commodity. Mark Twain defined it as “resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.” Muhammad Ali stated, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” My own definition is, if you haven’t been willing to defy the odds and speak out against the forces of evil, you have missed an opportunity, and that makes you a lesser person.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?