Profiles in cowardice: Rob Portman, Harry Reid and U.S Senate

Portman’s reversal on gay marriage and Harry Reid's decision to kill assault weapons ban are examples of moral cowardice. Photo: AP

Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”- Margaret Chase Smith.

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 25, 2013 — With all due respect to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), he did not deserve the high praise he received for coming out in favor of gay marriage.

It is great that he showed love and compassion towards his son. It is nice to know that he wants his gay son to have the same rights as someone else’s straight son. 

But there is nothing heroic about changing your mind on an issue only when it becomes personal. There is nothing courageous about supporting gay marriage only when you find out that your son is gay.

In Portman’s Op-Ed to the Columbian Dispatch, he writes, “knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective…”

So the stories of gays and lesbians that have been fighting tirelessly for marriage equality never prompted the senator to consider it from their perspective?

True empathy is the ability to perceive, feel, and understand another person’s feelings even when they are not related to you by blood. It requires looking beyond your own personal circumstances, imagining what life is like in someone else’s shoes, and wanting for them the same opportunities you enjoy.

But if personal proximity to another human being’s struggle is the only way to get elected officials to show more courage and empathy, then let us arrange a meet and greet with Gov. Romney and a couple of working-class Americans so that he can understand how insulting his 47 percent comment was.  

Let us put the kids of Democratic politicians into low-performing public school districts, and see if they still oppose school choice. Let us make politicians from both parties spend more time with the poor, and maybe that will help them become better advocates for poor and working-class issues.

Portman’s change of heart was not bold, it exemplifies the moral cowardice that is all too often seen in politicians from both parties.


We see it from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he dropped an assault weapons ban from the gun-control legislation.

“I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed. I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.” Reid said.

No senator, the worst of all worlds is your failure to give the families of Newtown victims a vote on the assault weapons ban.

The truth is that Reid killed the proposal to protect his fellow Democrats. There are 20 Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2014. Making it public that some Senate Democrats are against an assault weapons ban will invite outrage from the left. 

By the same token, putting them on record in favor of a plan that the NRA opposes could cost those vulnerable Democratic incumbents their seats. So Reid dropped the proposal to give his colleagues some cover.

Background checks, mental health issues, and violence in video games and Hollywood movies are all important. But so is an assault weapons ban.

The Second Amendment is not absolute. Semi-automatic weapons and bushmasters in the hands of gangbangers and mentally unstable men is probably not what the framers envisioned.

57 percent of Americans favor a ban on assault weapons according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Those Americans deserve a vote. The parents of the 20 slain children in Newtown, and the families of the 12 Americans who were massacred at the midnight showing of a Batman movie in Colorado also deserve a vote.

They deserve to know which of their elected officials cares more about political survival than showing the courage to do what is right.

Unfortunately, Harry Reid will not give those victims’ families the opportunity to find out.

Shame on him.

Ayobami Olugbemiga is a graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.





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Ayobami Olugbemiga

Ayobami Olugbemiga is a Political Sales Team Leader at NCC Media where he develops Cable TV advertising schedules for political candidates and interest groups. An award-winning collegiate journalist, Ayobami received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Political Management from George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. 

In 2013, he was honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with a Mark of Excellence Award for Online Opinion and Commentary. Follow Ayobami on twitter at @ayobamiao


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