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Jewish World Review June 17, 1999/ 3 Tamuz 5759

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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True courage is more than just admitting troubles -- LAST MONTH, Tipper Gore took to the interview circuit to reveal that when her son was injured in an auto accident she experienced depression and took medication to cope. There's nothing worse than a self-indulgent baby boomer with a setback, for the world must know of her saga, unequal to any adversity this world has ever seen. But most irritating about Tipper's revelations is the ease with which the label of "courage" is hurled about these days.

Mrs. Al Gore earned, for her disclosure, the word "courage" in every report and commentary. Society stopped shunning mental illness sometime after Thomas Eagleton's failed vice presidential bid and has since moved into its celebration with an elitist merit badge.

What is courageous about revealing now-normalized activities to a hungry media certain to fawn? In an era when superlatives fly about like Circle K cups on the highway, the difference between courage and opportunism is a blurry mess.

Mrs. Gore as a courage role model is ironic. In 1984, she and Susan Baker, spouse of former secretary of State and Treasury James Baker, took to the hearing rooms of Congress and the newspapers to denounce the lyrics of Sheena Easton, Prince and Motley Crue, such as "now I'm killing you . . . and your face is turning blue." Mrs. Baker and Tipper formed the Parents Resource Music Center to fight the rock music industry, and despite scholarly challenges from the likes of Frank Zappa, obtained voluntary warning labels on CDs, which boosted the sales of those CDs to teens moved by sheer temptation from the now-conspicuous allure.

By 1988, Mrs. Gore sang a different tune when her husband ran for president and sought money from the entertainment industry. When reminded of the very public stance and noise Tipper created about the profit-producing CDs in a secretly recorded Hollywood meeting with Don Henley, Norman Lear and Prince's lawyer, both Gores assured the moguls that such protests would never happen again. With high-dollar contributions hanging in the balance, Tipper said that the hearings had been a "mistake." "I understand the hearings frightened the artistic community," she went on, "If I could rewrite the script, I certainly would."

Two "courageous" women?
Irving Azoff, an executive with MCA, told Mrs. Gore to drop the word "parent" from her group, to which Tipper responded, "Good idea." There's not a prettier picture than a cowardly politician (Mr. Gore in the same meeting, "I did not ask for the hearing") and his chameleon wife. Cowards both, even if they took Prozac following the meeting.

Courage is not mere revelation of weakness. So muddled are the definitions of valor that those who reveal become heroes for their willingness to surrender privacy. Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature gave a standing ovation to one of its own who confessed that he had been arrested on a DUI charge the preceding weekend. He became a hero for confessing disregard for the law and the safety of others.

Courage is defined by what you lose in standing for your principles. It takes little courage to abandon one's beliefs. Silent cowards abound. Over the past few months, George Stephanopoulos has earned the courage label for his book's ("All Too Human") revelations about the character, leadership and hair flaws of our commander-in-chief.

Valor is accepting $1.4 million for a book you wrote six years too late? What is courageous about revealing that you suffered hair loss and skin disease because you were tortured in your employment by a corrupt man when those revelations came after the damage was done, the second term was achieved and your television contracts were in the bag? Courage would have been revealing those same tragic flaws in 1993, risking it all for the sake of a country now damaged by the amorality of an administration too long protected by operatives like little Georgie. Silent cowards all.

Courage is standing for principle, regardless of personal consequences. Courage under fire exists but is largely ignored. Reggie White, who stands for his religious convictions despite losing a television contract. Dan Quayle, who continues to beat the drums for families and against abortion despite the condescension that makes its way into every report on his speeches. Ward Connerly, who endures attacks for his battle to eliminate racial preferences. Clarence Thomas, who has never wavered from his principles as a strict constructionist despite protests over his speaking engagements and shunning by his peers. And young Cassie Bernall who lost her life at Columbine High School after answering "Yes" to her young murderer's question, "Do you believe in God?"

Such courage is too painful to acknowledge by silent cowards who dwell on themselves and abandon principle when the price is right. Courage, where is thy dignity? Where art thou? In Cassie and others who stand firm despite the consequences, with nary a whine nor a pill.

Courage under fire, not silence when principles make the going rough.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments to her by clicking here.


©1999, Marianne M. Jennings