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Grisanti as new profile in courage

I kept thinking about Edmund G. Ross when I read what Mark Grisanti told The News' Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious.

"I just committed political suicide," Grisanti is quoted as saying after his "yes" was one of the two crucial votes that gave New York State back its reputation for progressivism and a passion for human rights and made this the largest state to have a same-sex marriage law.

Edmund G. Ross was the senator from Kansas who voted "not guilty" at the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, thereby saving Johnson's presidency by the slimmest possible margin.

Ross' last-second rescue of Johnson's unpopular presidency is the most dramatic, by far, in John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

"I almost literally looked down into my open grave," wrote Ross later, according to Kennedy. "Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever."

Ross, in fact, said "not guilty" so softly that not everyone on the floor heard him. He had to say it again.

In the tsunami of peevish revisionism about Jack Kennedy of the past half century we have, of course, learned all manner of things that no one specifically knew during the years of genuflection at the Kennedy altar -- everything from JFK's randy romps with secretaries "Fiddle and Faddle" in the White House pool to Ted Sorenson's enormous -- and, at first, secret -- role as his ghostwriter on "Profiles in Courage." (JFK, in 1955, wrote that he owed a huge debt to Sorenson and called him "my research associate." In our era, he might well be credited as co-author.)

But the Kennedy presidency -- and martyrdom -- gave America a new kind of reverence for political courage and a new respect for political conscience.

I thought of Ross when I read Grisanti's fears of extinction but I couldn't possibly have agreed more with Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who said, according to Precious and Maki Becker's story on the Sunday News' front page, "I would maintain that if he loses the endorsement of the Conservative Party, that will be made up for tenfold by the amount of Democrats who not only would proudly vote for him but work their tails off to get him re-elected." (Disclosure: Sam Hoyt is my nephew by marriage and his late father Bill was my brother-in-law during some of Sam's childhood. Bill was one of many whose understanding of American politics -- and very entry into it -- owed so much to Jack Kennedy.)

In the radically changing new world of modern media, that front page story on Sunday was a perfect example of everything that television journalism is now almost comically incapable of providing.

Mark Grisanti clearly agonized over his vote. He told reporters that his own wife had doubts. What he wound up doing, despite his reservations, was becoming one of two Republicans in the New York State Senate to make New York State the biggest weapon, thus far, in the fight to universalize same-sex marriage.

It is inconceivable to me that in the events of last weekend, Grisanti didn't make some of the most important friends a New York State politician can make. He might have thought it looked like an open grave. Unless my sense of the political world is completely absurd (always possible), I'd bet anything it was just the foundation people have to dig before they put up a sign for a skyscraper that reads "watch this space for further developments."

For those given to hand-wringing over the city's reputation, it's hard not to think that he, like Kathy Hochul, did quite a lot more: they have completely re-identified upstate New York, and especially Western New York, from the area that gave the state the gubernatorial campaign of Carl Paladino to the area that put Hochul into Congress and proved decisive in legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State.

That's quite a change in reputation in such a short time.

In a matter of months, then, our part of the political world went from a hotbed of Tea Partyish tax loathing and the birthplace of what national media treated as gubernatorial campaign comedy to a national focus for political idealism, a place where an awful lot of people, no matter what their reservations, wind up doing the right thing.

No one ever said politicians have to BE angels -- or at least no one with the most rudimentary grasp of the subject.

Isn't it nice, though, to know that, at least for a while, a lot of people now know we're on the side of the angels?

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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