Two people who acted on their principles

Two politicians really impressed me this week. As it happened, both were black men. Since I have two sons who will grow up to be black men, that warms my heart especially. (OK, foster sons, but it doesn’t feel like that. Our kids are our kids, all 4 of them.)

Governor David Paterson did what almost no politician ever does: He admitted wrongdoing before he was backed into a corner and forced to do so. It was a very politically savvy move on his part, but it also demonstrated moral courage. Even when scandals begin to break, politicians tend to admit as little as possible for as long as possible. That’s not what Governor Paterson did; he spoke up before anyone even had a clue that he had anything to say. It seems not to have harmed his approval ratings, and it certainly did what he said he wanted it to do: Nobody can blackmail him, nor can its secret existence affect his decision-making. It was brilliant and it was honorable. Which are two things we want in a politician.

Senator Barak Obama put relationships front and center in his speech about race matters this week. (Yes, that’s a quiet reference to Cornel West’s book of the same name.) He refused to repudiate people who are important to him even though their views are a political liability. He didn’t come clean quite as quickly as Governor Paterson; at first, if I heard it right, he tried to deny knowing about certain of his pastor’s views. (Correct me if I’m wrong; I wasn’t paying super-close attention, having a funeral to prepare for last week.) But his masterful speech put it in perspective: I will continue to love the man, or woman, who’s important to me even if s/he holds views that are painful to me, even if s/he believes things that I don’t/can’t/won’t, even if other people won’t understand the difference; I can understand where she or he is coming from even when I wish that they didn’t think/feel what they think and feel. There’s an undercurrent in his speech of “love the sinner, hate the sin” (a Christian saying that I never understood until someone explained that implicit in the saying is the idea that we’re all sinners). But that’s not necessary for it to be brilliant. He did more than “put a human face” on a political situation. He put himself on the line to say, “People come first.”

Now that is what we want in a politician, too.