Editorial—Finding courage in the American center

Profile in Courage Award_Sister Senators_JFKLFoundation.png
Five “sister” Senators from South Carolina –Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson –received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Sunday night (Oct. 29) in the JFK Library’s Stephen E. Smith hall. The state senators formed a bipartisan coalition to filibuster a near-total abortion ban in their state last year. Also honored on Sunday were South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Past honorees have included US Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush, and former US Rep. Liz Cheney. Pictured from left: Jack Schlossberg, US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Sen. Matthews, Sen. Shealy, Sen. McLeod, Sen. Senn, Sen. Gustafson, Tatiana Schlossberg, Ed Schlossberg. Photo Credit: JFK Library Foundation

The JFK Profiles in Courage award ceremony was held on Sunday evening in front of an audience of 500 people. The event, which has been held at the Kennedy Library on Columbia Point since 1989, salutes officials who take courageous positions “in the public interest without regard for the personal or professional consequences.” The event often features global figures— and this year was no exception: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were two of the honorees. They sent designated ambassadors to accept and offered remarks via recorded video messages.

The five honorees who did travel to accept their awards were all women from South Carolina who serve in their state’s Senate: Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson. They’ve become known as the “Sister Senators.” The three white women are Republicans— Shealy, Senn, and Gustafson. The two Black lawmakers— Matthews and McLeod— are Democrats.

They’re pretty far apart on most issues. But when their male colleagues began pushing to reverse reproductive freedoms last year in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, they found themselves suddenly aligned. They were unable to halt most of the draconian roll-backs, but succeeded in preventing a total ban.

The Republican women, in particular, did so at great peril to their own seats in the Palmetto State’s legislature. They will all face opposition next year.

Senator Senn is one of them. In her remarks, she said that she and her “sister senators…came together easily on the issue by first casting aside extreme positions.”

“Zero abortions with zero exceptions is extreme,” she said. “Allowing an abortion after viability is certainly extreme. We knew that the correct answer was somewhere in the reasonable middle which is where I think the overwhelming majority of Americans are today—not just on the abortion issue —but on most issues.”

Senator Senn and her colleagues seem to grasp what a lot of Americans like her— people in the center— seem to grasp increasingly. “Figuring out a solution by casting out the extremes,” she said, “will help. Electing more women will help.”

She continued:… “If there is not room for centrist thinking in the Republican party then my party is doomed. Any party will be doomed if they reject those of us who agree with them 80 percent of the time but reject the extreme positions. Why? Because winning elections is about addition, not subtraction. Because most Americans are not extremists leaning far left or far right. Most Americans sit in the reasonable middle with me where we are tired of hyper-partisanship. We are tired of the hatred and vitriol being played out on political stages today.”

And, she added, in a deep Dixie accent: “Most of us want our leaders to please mind their manners.”

Amen to all of that.

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