Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

It is an honor to be here this morning to pay tribute to the winner of the 1994 John P. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas.

I want to say a special word of welcome to the many members of the Gonzalez family who are here today, beginning with Congressman Gonzalez and Bertha, his wife of 54 years.

Anyone who thinks there are large numbers of Kennedys from Massachusetts should meet the Gonzalezes from Texas. And what a wonderful way this is for Massachusetts to meet them.

This is the fifth year of the annual Profile in Courage Award, which was established by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989. It honors President Kennedy by honoring contemporary elected officials who demonstrate the quality of political courage that my brother prized so highly in public service, and that he described in his 1957 book of that name, "Profiles in Courage."

Our hope is that by honoring elected officials in this way, we will encourage more leaders in public life to act with more courage in meeting more of the nation’s challenges, and encourage the public to give more support to those who do.

I know that President Kennedy would have been especially pleased by this year's award. It honors an outstanding member of the House of Representatives of my brother's generation, a man whose entire life, and especially his brilliant career in Congress, is a continuing profile in courage and a continuing symbol of the American dream.

Henry Gonzalez was born the year before my brother. In 1961, the year that Jack became President, Henry became Congressman Gonzalez from San Antonio.

Jack endorsed him in that race, and thirty-three years later, my brother's letter of endorsement seems remarkably prescient. The key word in Jack's letter of support to Henry was courage -- the political courage that Henry had already demonstrated in the Texas Senate.

My brother knew political courage when he saw it, and ever since then, Henry Gonzalez has justified that description. Courage fits him like a glove.

From the day he took his seat in the House of Representatives, Congressman Gonzalez has been a Congressional original — fearless in serving the long-suffering people and families of his district, fearless in challenging entrenched interest groups, fearless in standing up for those who are pressed down by injustice and prejudice.

As Andrew Jackson once said, one man with courage makes a majority. In Henry Gonzalez's case, it's not just a majority — he frequently makes it unanimous. As a candidate for re-election, he's often unopposed.

In honoring Congressman Gonzalez with this year's Profile in Courage Award, the selection committee cited two remarkable recent examples of his political courage.

As a member of the House Banking Committee in the late 1970's and early 1980’s, he was an eloquent but lonely voice calling attention to the abuses and misconduct of the savings and loan industry. When he became chairman of the committee in 1989, he knew exactly what to do — and did it. He launched the series of investigations and hearings that exposed the corruption and failures of S and L officials, federal regulators, and members of Congress alike, and his skillful work also led to the enactment of long-overdue legislative and industry reforms.

The achievement of banking reform might have been enough courage for most elected officials — but not Henry Gonzalez. The following year, he launched the "Iraqgate" investigation that exposed the role of the Atlanta branch o£ an Italian bank and the involvement of the U.S. Commodities Credit Corporation and Reagan and Bush Administration officials in the illegal sale of U.S. arms to Iraq leading up to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War.

The Bush Administration first asked — and then pressured - Chairman Gonzalez to drop the investigation, on the ground that national security would be compromised. But Chairman Gonzalez saw through that flimsy pretext, and the rest is history.

Today, at a time when Congress is facing increasingly heavy public skepticism and criticism for our inability to meet the nation's serious challenges, Henry Gonzalez is an inspiring counter-balance — an example of a public official with the honesty, integrity, independence, fairness, and ability to know what is right, and the courage to get it done.

That's why, on both sides of the aisle in both Houses of Congress, Henry Gonzalez is so respected for his leadership, admired for his statesmanship, valued for his friendship, and above all, esteemed for his courage. In a word, he's a profile in courage, and he eminently deserves this award.

Congratulations, Henry — President Kennedy would be proud of you, and so are we.

It is now my privilege to introduce President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, who has done so much to make this Library such an extraordinary living memorial to her father. Caroline will read the award citation for Congressman Gonzalez, and then we will present the award.

Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, September 11, 1994.