Editor’s Note: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto underlines the risks that democracy advocates face in dangerous places around the world. It also underscores the relative cowardice of Washington politicians who acquiesce to disastrous policies rather than take a chance on losing a few points in opinion polls.

In this guest essay, former Democratic congressional staffer Brent Budowsky laments the absence of more pro-democracy heroes in the United States:

By contrast, Democrats in Washington have a life crisis, consult an army of pollsters, and have trouble taking clear leadership stands on war and peace because members of a Congress with record unpopularity might lose another point or two in the polls.

Our discredited politics in America has become a sad Kabuki dance of insiders congratulating and protecting each other, of pollsters and pundits uttering sweet nothings into the ears of politicians too fearful and self-indulgent to take even minimal risks for the higher values of our country.

Benazir Bhutto gives her life. Democrats in Washington cannot risk a point in the polls. Republicans in Washington cannot summon the courage to speak out against a president and war that many of them privately, silently, believe is a disaster for our country.

Meanwhile young heroes give their lives in this unwise war our insiders sent them to fight from the safety of their focus groups and polls and their smugness while they dispense their wisdom caked in makeup from the safety of their television studios.

Give Al Gore credit for elevating the debate about climate change, but at a moment that our country, under George Bush, sabotaged the Bali summit, why isn’t Al Gore running for president?

Never have the man and the moment come together so perfectly as Al Gore for President in 2008.  Never has any potential candidate been so clearly the heir to Roosevelt and Kennedy, never has any potential candidate so clearly embodied change when change is needed, and experience when experience is needed, as Al Gore for President in 2008.

Having supported Gore through campaigns and governance over a generation, words cannot express my disappointment, my sadness and to some degree my outrage that Al Gore had better things to do than be leader of the free world.

Movies and books can be important, and even great; making money through venture capital for worthy businesses is fine; awards, honors, prizes and standing ovations are wonderful — but they are marginal compared to the leadership of the free world, by America, in our times.

Does Al Gore, or anyone, seriously believe that any presidential candidate, in either party, is even remotely as committed to the battle to save the Earth from the planetary emergency as Gore?  If the world is truly in danger of extinction unless major changes are made within the term of the next president, isn’t there some higher obligation to hold the one office that can lead the nation and the world toward those changes?

My hope is that Gore at least makes a major endorsement for change in the coming hours, but the real shame is that our strongest leader does not lead where it matters the most, and the voice of both experience and change is silenced on the most important debate about the future of our nation and the world.

Benazir Bhutto gave her life for her country; Democrats so often lack the courage of their convictions to risk even a few points in the polls; and Al Gore racks up the prizes and awards, no doubt deserved, but sadly silenced when the man who should have been leader of the free world had higher priorities.

Benazir Bhutto’s murder is a moment of outrage and sadness, of crisis and shock, but it is also a reminder of the power of hope, of the higher purpose of patriotism and of the higher truth that one woman can make a difference, if she gives enough of a damn to try and puts everything on the line for the cause she believes in and the country she loves.

Good-bye, Benazir. You may be gone, but you will be remembered and honored.  Perhaps some day in the land that gave us Washington and Lincoln, some heroic leader will emerge once again, inspired by your courage and your example, and rise above the mediocrity and timidity of our times, as you did in yours.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read on The Hill Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net. [This article was first published by The Hill.]

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