At last, a sequel (of sorts) to the original Profiles in Courage written by Ted Sorensen under the pen-name John F. Kennedy. This time, Caroline Kennedy lends her family name only to the “editing” rather than the authoring, leaving that to a team of professional writers, using their own names.

The new book rounds up recipients of the JFK Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award, bestowed annually to a “politician of distinction.” In Caroline’s words, the book has been published to continue inspiring “a generation of Americans to believe in the power of government.”

Sorenson’s original book sketched principled moments in the careers of 19th-century Senators, including John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Sam Houston. The new Profiles shows how much “our time” has degenerated from theirs. Whether it’s E.J. Dionne on Lowell Weicker, Marian Wright Edelman on Corkin Cherubini, or Steve Roberts on Michael Synar, the profiles for this new gallery of worthies are sadly predictable: Some busybody inspired by Jack or Bobby (only Caroline praises Teddy) struggles against entrenched reactionaries in order to promote unlimited government through tax hikes, gun bans, race-baiting, and the fight for something called “environmental justice.”

Aside from its unrelieved mediocrity and political bias, the greatest fault of Profiles in Courage for Our Time is that no one associated with the project understands what courage is—and what it isn’t.

For example, the final chapter honors the “Heroes of September 11.” After an obligatory bow to firemen, policemen, and rescue workers, only two figures are singled out by name. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and President George W. Bush? No, Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven for—what else?—defending a Muslim foundation against local bigots; and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose speeches against poverty and AIDS (forget about the war on terror) make him “a true Profile in Courage, not just for our time but for all time.”

This book can’t even get the easy ones right.