Acceptance Speech by Darrell Steinberg

Thank you, Caroline Kennedy and the JFK Library Foundation Board, for this truly humbling honor.

We are in the midst of a very sobering time – a time which challenges one’s belief in representative democracy, our ability to bridge differences in deeply held, but opposing, points of view.

What my colleagues and I recognized is the fine and imperfect balance of fighting for what you believe in, yet sharing success, and not making your opponent your enemy.

A few years ago, Governor Schwarzenegger declared that we were entering what he called the “post-partisan era.”

He predicted that practicality would supercede political ideology. But sadly, instead, we have careened – as a nation AND as a society – into a period where a kind of false theology has replaced ideology.

Ideology is what each of us believes is true. It is our point of view.

But the new false theology has become something quite different. It carries with it a certainty that not only are we right, but that God himself is on our side… and those on the other side… well, God isn’t on their side.

That kind of absolute certainty has had and continues to have a corrosive effect on our ability to disagree, to doubt our own points of view, and consider opposing points of view.

There’s a good reason the Founders separated Church and State.

We are now living in a time, when the public discourse has shifted from “I think I’m right” to “I am good and you are bad.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a perilous place for a society and culture to come to.

I continue to hold on to the belief that one can be both a “partisan” – an advocate for a cause, a client and a set of beliefs – and a “patriot” – dedicated to what is best for the country.

You can be a partisan AND a patriot. In fact, you must be.

Embracing partisanship and bi-partisanship concurrently may seem to be a contradiction. But let’s remember that our most important values are contradictions.

At the end of the Pledge of Allegiance we all say “with liberty and justice for all.”

Think about it… liberty and justice are values in conflict. Absolute liberty would create a society where the strong dominate the weak, the rich dominate the poor, the big dominate the small.

And a society that attempts to impose absolute justice would deprive people of many of our liberties.

But just because liberty and justice are in conflict doesn’t mean that they are not values we must pursue concurrently. To the contrary, it means that we must pursue them both and work every day to find the balance between them.

So it is with partisanship and bi-partisanship.

I have strong beliefs about what is right, what is fair, what is just.

And while I think I am right, I can’t be so absolute, so certain, that I stop listening to those who have different views and who think that they are right. Because if I do, I will achieve nothing.

Stalemate is not an acceptable alternative to progress. Even when that progress is slower than we’d like.

Bi-partisanship requires each of us to listen. To recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That the entirety of our society is more important than what each of us think. We are a collective. We must find ways to solve problems without tearing the fabric of society.

It’s not easy. It wasn’t for us. The four of us paid a political price. Many of our political friends don’t like us. Any of us.

Webster’s defines courage as “the strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

In his Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy wrote: “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

That is the challenge that faces all of us face daily in our work.

It is beyond humbling to receive an award for courage. I hope that I can live up to this moment tomorrow and all of the days that will follow.

Remarks of Senate President proTempore
Darrell Steinberg on accepting the 2010 Profile in Courage Award, May 24, 2010 -- As Prepared for Delivery