In America, we once thought of political courage as being willing to do something at one’s own expense.
At the pointy end of that consideration are instances when people risk their lives or freedom to do the right thing. The men and women rotting in Vladimir Putin’s jails or dead by his order are proof that history will never exhaust its demand for political courage.
Here, thankfully, we have in recent decades mostly thought of political courage in terms of electoral risks: Gerald Ford taking the hit for pardoning Richard Nixon to bring the Watergate fiasco to a close, Barack Obama refusing the demands of Democrats to prosecute members of the Bush administration, or any politician who crosses the aisle to vote for a measure unpopular with his or her own party for the sake of an idea or policy they believe in.
That’s why we revere courageous leadership. A politician who will sacrifice his or her ambition or grasp on power in order to serve the people is a rarity, and also essential. We name states and cities for them and build monuments to their service. Had George Washington or Abraham Lincoln wanted to be despots, they could have been. Instead, they preserved government of, for, and by the people. In Lincoln’s case, even unto death.