2009 John F. Kennedy Profile In Courage Essay Contest

In one of his first speeches since he left the White House, former president Barack Obama built a moral case against President Trump’s efforts to repeal his health care law, telling a Boston audience Sunday night that Congress has a duty to all Americans, not just the rich.

“I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn’t take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential — but it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm,” Obama said at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, accepting the annual Profile in Courage Award on Sunday night.

Obama challenged lawmakers to put conscience ahead of party loyalty. He was responding to an all-Republican House vote last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislative accomplishment.

Democrats say the bill would undermine poor people’s health care while cutting taxes for the rich. The bill’s supporters argue it would help reduce health costs for many people.

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“I hope they understand that courage means not simply doing what is politically expedient, but doing what they believe deep in their hearts is right,” Obama said.

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Photos: Obama honored in Boston

Former president Barack Obama zoomed into Dorchester Sunday to receive the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

The speech and award marked something of a coda to the sweeping political alliance between the Kennedy family and Obama. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, endorsed Obama in January 2008, helping catapult him to the Democratic nomination and, eventually, the presidency.

And when, amid massive political blowback in 2009 and 2010 against what would become known as Obamacare, the president’s aides questioned his decision to spend so much political capital on the issue, Obama reportedly replied, “I promised Teddy.”

In his speech Sunday, Obama offered a paean to the vulnerable members of Congress who, in those years, took hard votes for the health reform law.

“These men and women did the right thing. They did the hard thing. Theirs was a profile in courage. Because of that vote, 20 million people got health insurance who didn’t have it before,” he said to applause. “And most of them did lose their seats.”

The president also offered a broader call for people to push back against the pull of parochialism.

“Everywhere, we see the risk of falling into the refuge of tribe, clan, and anger at those who don’t look like us, or have the same surname, or pray the way we do,” he said. “And at such moments, courage is necessary. At such moments, we need courage to stand up to hate — not just in others, but in ourselves.”

Obama received the award, created to honor the country’s 35th president, for his overall contributions to public life, including his achievements on key policy issues and his historic victory as the nation’s first African-American president, according to the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which administers the award.

The speech was the culmination of a black-tie gala that, at times, seemed like an Obama White House reunion. The former president called out by name his wife, Michelle Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, and former secretary of state John F. Kerry, all of whom were in the audience.

But he did not mention his successor by name.

‘It does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick.’

Barack Obama, receiving the Profile in Courage Award 

A relaxed Obama embraced his new role as president emeritus and cracked jokes throughout his remarks to a crowd filled with leaders of Massachusetts politics, business, education, philanthropy, religion, arts, and sports.

Obama accepted the award, a silver lantern, from Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg. Kennedy thanked the president for having appointed her ambassador to Japan.

Other Kennedys at the event on windy Columbia Point in Dorchester included Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of senator Edward Kennedy, and Congressman Joe Kennedy III.

On the red carpet before the event, the state’s US senators, Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren, mingled not far from current and former Massachusetts constitutional officers, including Attorney General Maura Healey, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, and former governor Deval Patrick.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh was there. So were Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Congressman Seth Moulton.

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, eschewed the red carpet, instead slipping in a side door.

University of Massachusetts president Martin T. Meehan walked down the carpet, as did New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, retired late night TV host David Letterman, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, local political adviser Will Keyser, and famed historian David McCullough.

Asked about Obama’s legacy, McCullough said, “You have to wait 50 years for the dust to settle, but it looks good.”

As the former president arrived in Dorchester earlier, sporting a black bowtie and big smile in the back of an SUV, he waved to about 60 supporters who had gathered on Bianculli Boulevard, along the route to the library, to give the Democrat a “standing ovation.” They cheered and held signs like “We Miss You.”

The past four recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, created in 1989, were Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy; Bob Inglis, former US representative from South Carolina; former president George H. W. Bush; and the former mayor of Uvalda, Ga., Paul Bridges.

Other recipients include former US representative Gabrielle Giffords, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, US Representative John Lewis of Georgia, and US Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Obama closed his remarks Sunday by saying history does not move in a straight line. He challenged the room to continue to push for progress.

As he often did as president, Obama recalled a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., who said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Obama said that arc does not bend on its own.

“It bends because we bend it,” he said. “Because we put our hand on that arc and we move it in the direction of justice. And freedom. And equality, and kindness, and generosity. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

Globe correspondents Felicia Gans and Lauren Fox contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos. Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz. Click here to subscribe to Miller’s weekday newsletter on politics.

The Profile in Courage Award is a private award given to recognize displays of courage similar to those John F. Kennedy described in his book Profiles in Courage. It is given to individuals (often elected officials) who, by acting in accord with their conscience, risked their careers or lives by pursuing a larger vision of the national, state or local interest in opposition to popular opinion or pressure from constituents or other local interests.

The winners of the award are selected by a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans. It is generally awarded each year around the time of Kennedy's birthday (May 29) at a ceremony at the Kennedy Library in Boston. The award is generally presented by Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy. Also before their deaths, other presenters had included Senator Edward Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Two recipients, John Lewis (in 2001) and William Winter (in 2008), were designated as honorees for Lifetime Achievement.

The winner is presented with a sterling silverlantern made by Tiffany's which was designed by Edwin Schlossberg. The lantern is patterned after the lanterns on USS Constitution, the last sail-powered ship to remain part of the US Navy, which is permanently moored nearby.


1990Carl Elliott, Sr.U.S. representative from the U.S. state of Alabama.
1991Charles WeltnerA politician from the U.S. state of Georgia.
1992Lowell P. Weicker Jr.U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the 85th Governor of Connecticut.
1993James FlorioDemocratic politician who served as the 49thGovernor of New Jersey from 1990 to 1994. Member of the United States House of Representatives for 15 years between 1975 and 1990.
1994Henry GonzalezDemocraticpolitician from the U.S. state of Texas, who represented Texas's 20th congressional district from 1961 to 1999.
1995Michael SynarAmerican Democraticpolitician who represented Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district in Congress for eight terms.
1996Corkin CherubiniSchool superintendentEfforts to rectify civil rights abuses in his small southern school district
1997Judge Charles PriceA judge for Circuit 15 in Montgomery County, Alabama. He served as a judge for the court from 1983 until his retirement from the bench on January 16, 2015.
1998Nickolas C. MurnionA judge on the 16th Judicial District Court in Montana.
"Peacemakers of Northern Ireland"Signatories of the Good Friday Agreement
1999Russell FeingoldA lawyer and politician from the U.S. state of Wisconsin. He was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2016, and previously served as a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate from January 3, 1993 to January 3, 2011.[1] From 1983 to 1993, Feingold was a Wisconsin State Senator representing the 27th District.[2]
John McCainAn American politician who currently serves as the seniorUnited States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republicannominee for the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
2000Hilda SolisAn American politician and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 1st district. Solis previously served as the 25th United States Secretary of Labor from 2009 to 2013, as part of the administration of PresidentBarack Obama. She is a member of the Democratic Party and served in the United States House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009, representing the 31st and 32nd congressional districts of California that include East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.
2001John Lewis
(Lifetime Achievement Award)
An American politician and civil rights leader. He is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. His district includes three quarters of Atlanta.
Gerald Ford38th President of the United StatesFor his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon, which arguably cost him the 1976 election.
2002Kofi AnnanA Ghanaiandiplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.[3] He is the founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as chairman of The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela.[4][5]
Dean KoldenhovenFormer mayor of Palos Heights, IllinoisPolitical courage in speaking out against religious discrimination and calling for tolerance within his community.
"Public Servants of September 11"Representatives of NYPD, the FDNY, and the militaryRisked their lives on September 11, 2001 attacks[6]
2003Dan Ponder, Jr.He was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1997 to 2000. He is a member of the Republican party.[7] In 2003, he received the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.[8] He was elected mayor of Donalsonville, Georgia in 2013.[9][10]Took a contentious stand in favor of hate-crimes legislation in Georgia, which may have cost him his seat in the state House.
David BeasleyAn American politician who is the Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme.[11] Beasley served one term as the 113thGovernor of South Carolina from 1995 until 1999, as a member of the Republican Party.For his efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the state capitol.
Roy BarnesAn American attorney, politician and member of the Democratic Party who served as the 80th Governor of Georgia from 1999 to 2003.[12]For his efforts to minimize the Confederate battle emblem on Georgia's state flag.
2004Sima SamarA well known woman’s and human rights advocate, activist and a social worker within national and international forums, who served as Minister of Women's Affairs of Afghanistan from December 2001 to 2003.
Cindy WatsonFormer North Carolina State Representative
Paul MueggeState Senator of Oklahoma
2005Joseph DarbyThe whistleblower in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal.
Shirley Franklin58th mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, from 2002 to 2010.
Bill RatliffTexaspolitician who served as a member of the Texas State Senate from 1988 to 2004.[13]
Victor YushchenkoThird President of Ukraine from January 23, 2005 to February 25, 2010.
2006Alberto J. MoraA former General Counsel of the NavyLed an effort within the Defense Department to oppose the legal theories of John Yoo and to try to end coercive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay, which he argued are unlawful.
John MurthaAn American politician from the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
2007Bill WhiteMayor of Houston from 2004 to 2010.
Doris VoitierMath teacher
2008Jennifer BrunnerAn American politician of the Democratic Party who served as the Ohio Secretary of State
Debra BowenSecretary of State of California from 2007 to 2015. Previously, she was a member of the California State Legislature from 1992 to 2006.
William Winter
(Lifetime Achievement Award)
58th Governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984 as a Democrat.
2009Edward M. KennedyAn American politician and lawyer who served as a United States Senator from Massachusetts.
Brooksley BornAn American attorney and former public official who, from August 26, 1996, to June 1, 1999, was chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the federal agency which oversees the futures and commodity options markets.
Sheila Bair19th Chair of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC),[14] during which time she assumed a prominent role in the government's response to the 2008 financial crisis. She was appointed to the post for a five-year term on June 26, 2006 by George W. Bush.
Leymah Gbowee and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for PeaceHelped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.
2010Karen BassBass represented the 47th district in the California State Assembly 2004–2010, and was Speaker of the California State Assembly 2008–2010 (second woman, third African American speaker).
Dave CogdillRepublican politician who served as a State Senator from California's 14th State Senate district from December 2006 to December 2010.
Darrell SteinbergA member of the California State Senate representing the 6th District. He had also previously served as a member of the California State Assembly (1998–2004) and as a member of the Sacramento City Council (1992–1998). He is a member of the Democratic Party.
Michael VillinesFormer California State Assemblyman, who served from 2004 to 2010 representing the 29th district.
2011Elizabeth RedenbaughSchool Board Member, New Hanover County, North CarolinaFor her actions, as a member of North Carolina's New Hanover County School Board "against what she perceived as racial segregation in school redistricting plans."[15]
Wael Ghonim and the People of Egypt"presented to Wael Ghonim in honor of all Egyptians who stood up, at great personal risk, for the principles of democracy and self-governance" in the Egyptian revolution of 2011.[15]
2012Marsha K. Ternus, David L. Baker, and Michael J. StreitJustices of the Iowa Supreme Court"[I]n recognition of the political courage and judicial independence each demonstrated in setting aside popular opinion to uphold the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution." The justices joined the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Varnum v. Brien, that legally recognized same-sex marriage in Iowa; "[a]lthough the Court’s decision was unanimous, it provoked a political backlash. In November 2010, voters removed Ternus, Baker and Streit from office following an unprecedented campaign financed in part by national interest groups opposed to same-sex marriage."[16]
Robert S. FordDiplomat; United States Ambassador to Algeria (2006-2008); United States Ambassador to Syria (2010-2014)[17]For "bold and courageous diplomacy" that "provided crucial support to Syrians struggling under the brutal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad."[16]
2013Gabrielle GiffordsFormer U.S. Representative for Arizona's 8th congressional district (2007-2012)"[I]n recognition of the political, personal, and physical courage she has demonstrated in her fearless public advocacy for policy reforms aimed at reducing gun violence." Giffords survived an assassination attempt that left her with a severe brain injury.[18]
2014George H. W. Bush41st President of the United States"[I]n recognition of the political courage he demonstrated when he agreed to a 1990 budget compromise that reversed his 1988 campaign pledge not to raise taxes and put his re-election prospects at risk."[19]
Paul W. BridgesMayor of Uvalda, Georgia"[F]or risking his mayoral career with his decision to publicly oppose a controversial immigration law in Georgia" (H.B. 87). Bridges joined a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU to stop the implementation of the law.[19]
2015Bob InglisFormer U.S. Representative for South Carolina's 4th congressional district (1993-1999; 2005-2011)"[F]or the courage he demonstrated when reversing his position on climate change after extensive briefings with scientists, and discussions with his children, about the impact of atmospheric warming on our future. Knowing the potential consequences to his political career, Inglis nevertheless called on the United States to meaningfully address the issue."[20]
2016Dan MalloyGovernor of Connecticut (2011-present)For "courageously defend[ing] the U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees and personally welcom[ing] a family of Syrian refugees to New Haven after they had been turned away by another state."[21]
2017Barack Obama44th President of the United States"[F]or his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage in a new century."[22]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Robillard, Kevin (May 14, 2015). "Feingold running for Wisconsin Senate". Politico. Retrieved 10 February 2016. 
  2. ^Nelson, James (February 4, 2016). "Sen. Ron Johnson claims Russ Feingold is a career politician". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. PolitiFact. Retrieved 10 February 2016. 
  3. ^"Kofi Annan - Biographical". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2016-09-12. 
  4. ^Annan, Kofi. "The Nobel Peace Prize 2001". nobelprize.org. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  5. ^"Kofi Annan | Ghanaian statesman and secretary-general of the United Nations". Retrieved 2016-09-12. 
  6. ^http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education+and+Public+Programs/Profile+in+Courage+Award/Award+Recipients/Public+Servants+of+September+11
  7. ^"Ga House - Hon. Dan E. Ponder, Jr. (GA SH 160)". ga.gov. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  8. ^"Dan Ponder, Jr". jfklibrary.org. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  9. ^"Donalsonville News, Mayor-elect Ponder's plan of action". Donalsonville News. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  10. ^"Ponder wins Donalsonville mayor's race by three votes - www.millercountyliberal.com - Miller County Liberal". millercountyliberal.com. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  11. ^http://www1.wfp.org/executive-director
  12. ^Cook, James F. (2005). The Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004, 3rd Edition, Revised and Expanded. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.
  13. ^Bill RatliffArchived September 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Texas State Politics, University of Texas
  14. ^"FDIC: Board of Directors & Senior Executives". Fdic.gov. Archived from the original on 2010-11-23. Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  15. ^ ab[1]
  16. ^ ab2012 JFK Profile in Courage Award Winners Announced (March 12, 2012).
  17. ^Gordon, Michael R. (February 28, 2014). "American Envoy to Syria Steps Down". The New York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2014. 
  18. ^http://www.jfklibrary.org/About-Us/News-and-Press/Press-Releases/2013-Profile-in-Courage-Award-Announcement.aspx
  19. ^ ab[2]
  20. ^Former U.S. Congressman Bob Inglis to Receive JFK Profile in Courage Award for Stance on Climate Change
  21. ^Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy Announced as Recipient of the 2016 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Stand on Syrian Refugee Resettlement (April 4, 2016).
  22. ^Former President Barack H. Obama Announced as Recipient of 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

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