Public service is supposed to be about doing what's right and what's moral. Our founding fathers intended that elected officials be driven by a higher calling than public opinion polls. Fortunately, we have a couple of wonderful examples recently of public servants actually doing what is right, even in the face of fear-based and xenophobic outcries.
In the first example, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has put minority rights above public outcry in refusing to pursue an appeals process for California's homophobic Proposition 8. Although Schwarzenegger is in his last term as governor, and thus does not need to concern himself with reelection, it is still noteworthy and highly commendable that he is supporting social progress even in the face of public outcry.
In the second reprieve from a pattern of popularity-poll-driven government, President Obama has expressed support for permitting a Mosque to be built in lower Manhattan. Unlike Schwarzenegger, Obama does face reelection, and also pressure on his Democratic majority in Congress, so why would he take a stand on this issue? Only because it is the right thing to do. In spite of the widespread tagging of all Muslims with the crimes of a very few extremists, religious freedom is an American right, and President Obama is standing up for that right - for all Americans.
Putting right action above momentary popularity has a revered history, and was more common before the days of instant "news" and frequent voter initiatives. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, signed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, he relentlessly lobbied congress on behalf of the bill. A poll of President Johnson's political base would certainly not have shown support for minority rights, so why did he push for a civil rights bill? Because it was the right thing to do.