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George H.W. Bush honored for breaking 'no new taxes' pledge

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Former President George H.W. Bush is set to receive the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's prestigious Profile in Courage Award for breaking his "read my lips" pledge not to raise taxes — and for being "pilloried by conservatives for doing so."

To be sure, conservatives weren't happy when he broke the pledge. Many still aren't. Upon hearing the news, Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist issued a statement saying: "Courage would have been standing up to the spending lobbyists in Washington and saying, 'No.' Doing what official Washington and its spending lobbies want is not courage. It is a failure of nerve."

While it's fair to say that Bush went against his base, there are additional facts worth considering. First, Bush later said it was a mistake. And second, it wasn't just conservatives who "pilloried" the president. Let's not forget that Clinton strategist James Carville called it "the most famous broken promise in the history of American politics."

Political courage requires doing the right thing — even if it costs you an election. You need both parts of the equation. Merely losing an election is not a qualification. And since when did breaking promises become noble?

Exit question: If Jeb Bush is really considering a presidential run, what are the odds he shows up for the awards ceremony in Boston? Now that would be a profile in courage.