Remarks by Caroline Kennedy

It’s an honor to be here this morning to present the 2009 Profile in Courage Awards, and a special honor to present the awards to three women who have inspired all those who seek to bring about change in their political system. We honor Shelia Bair, Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Brooksley Born, former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist and the women who worked with her, including Vaiba Flomo and Janet Johnson Bryant, who are also here with us today.

These annual awards were first presented 19 years ago as a special tribute to my father, President Kennedy, and they are named after the famous brook he wrote in 1957. They honor the high ideals which inspired his own public life. He believed very deeply that public service is a noble profession, in large part because it often demands courage to do the right thing in the face of intense opposition. He understood that America would not be America without courageous officials willing to go against the grain, and he was constantly concerned that such courage so often seemed absent in public life.

These awards are our effort to pay tribute to the very best in contemporary public service in the United States and around the world and they mean a great deal to all of us in the Kennedy family. We salute this year’s honorees, and we commend them for their courage….

Like Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born showed great courage in standing up for the public interest in the face of opposition from powerful private interests.

In the booming economic climate of the 1990’s, as the size and complexity of the financial industry exploded, large parts of the industry went entirely unregulated.
As chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 -1999, an agency charged with overseeing options and futures trading, Brooksley Born became concerned about the lack of transparency and inadequate regulation of complex financial transactions now infamously known as derivatives and swaps.

In 1998, her concerns were underscored by the near-failure of a major hedge fund whose losses stemmed in part from trading in derivatives. She made a clear call for new regulations and disclosures that would bring more transparency and stability to these transactions.

But it was a lonely call. She drew fierce opposition from the Federal Reserve, the Department of Treasury, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, all of which blocked her efforts to shine a light on what had become a major component of the financial industry. Her political opponents eventually succeeded in stripping her agency of all regulatory authority over derivatives.

As we all now know, time has proved that Brooksley Born was right. President Obama has now called for thorough reform and restructuring of financial regulation system, just as she had called for.

For her foresight and her principled independence in preserving the integrity of our financial institutions, we present Brooksley Born with the 2009 Profile in Courage Award.

Remarks delivered by Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, in presenting the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Awards, March 18, 2009.