Murphy’s Profile in Courage

Connecticut’s junior US Sen. Chris Murphy recently made what may very well be one of the most crucial decisions of his career—he voted to buck the president and oppose granting him the authority to strike Syria. Regardless of where one comes down on the issue, it’s safe to say Murphy’s vote was incredibly courageous if risky.

In the end, it didn’t affect the outcome of the vote. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the resolution for the use of force (the resolution looks doomed in the Republican-controlled House anyway). But that doesn’t matter when it comes to how the vote may play in Murphy’s future. It’s one of those rare, “you’re with me or against me” votes. Murphy went against the president.

People will question whether it was a strictly calculated vote designed to lift Murphy’s chances for reelection and a long, prosperous career in the world’s most exclusive club. But the reading here is that it was more than that. It takes guts to field a call from the president of the United States, a fellow Democrat, imploring you to support him and then vote your conscience the other way. Yet that was exactly what happened over the Labor Day weekend.

Beyond the actual vote, Murphy is probably cringing at the fact that he is now getting atta-boys from usually war-mongering Republicans who gave George W. Bush authority to attack Iraq and are now olive branch-carrying doves. Those people—lawmakers and ridiculous talk show hosts alike—will do everything and anything to oppose Obama whether it’s with their better judgment or not.

I had a chance to speak briefly with Murphy when he came to New Haven to endorse his former colleague in the state Senate Toni Harp in her race for mayor. (Murphy was elected to the state Senate at the same moment I joined the staff). It was when the whole Syria debate was raging and before the president announced he would seek congressional approval for any strike. Murphy was suspect then and never wavered from his position.

Murphy’s passion, charisma and charm were on display that day in New Haven. Combined with his vote on the Syria, it occurred to me once again—as it did many times in the state Senate—that he is destined to be a great leader. It reminded me of the time I saw a then relatively unknown US Sen. Barak Obama speak at the Jefferson-Jackson-Baily dinner in Hartford in 2006. Take the inference from there.