Former President Barack Obama accepted the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage” Award in Boston on Sunday, where he spoke broadly about the healthcare debate gripping the country.
In his first remarks since the House passed a bill repealing and replacing Obama’s signature healthcare law, the former president ruminated on the idea of political courage.
“I’ve been thinking on this notion on political courage this weekend, in particular about some of the men and women who were elected to Congress the year I was elected to the White House,” Obama said. “Many of them were new to Washington, had their entire careers ahead of them and in that very first term they had to take tough vote after tough vote because we were in crisis.”
“And then found themselves in the midst of a great debate,” he continued. “A debate that had been going on for decades … a debate about whether a nation as wealthy as the United States of America would finally make healthcare not a privilege, but a right for all Americans.”
When it was time to vote on the Affordable Care Act, he said, “these freshman congressmen and women knew that they had to make a choice, that they had a chance to insure millions and prevent untold worry and suffering, bankruptcy and even death, but that this same vote would likely cost them their new seats, perhaps end their political careers.”
Praising their votes to pass the Affordable Care Act, Obama said, “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, and most of [those lawmakers] did lose their seats.”
Though he did not mention President Trump by name, he said “this great debate is not settled.”
But “it is my fervent hope … that regardless of party, such courage is still possible,” he continued.
“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 … but it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm and those who often have no access to the corridors of power.
“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.”