Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

It's a special honor to be here today with my two colleagues from the Senate who so eminently deserve this year's John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

This is the tenth year of this annual award. It was instituted a decade ago by the Kennedy Library Foundation as a memorial to my brother, and as a way to encourage contemporary political leaders to be more willing to take on the tough issues, and to demonstrate the quality of political courage that my brother so admired and that is all too rare in public life today.

Our goal in these awards is to honor political courage in contemporary elected officials, at whatever level of government they serve -- federal, state, or local. By doing so, we also hope to encourage the American people to value political courage more highly in their elected representatives.

As a young Senator in the 1950's, President Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his book "Profiles in Courage," which recounts the stories of famous Senators and other elected officials in American history who demonstrated political courage to an unusually high degree, by challenging their party leaders and powerful special interest groups in ways that often risked their own re-elections and careers.

President Kennedy would have been especially proud of this year's award. The recipients are two especially courageous Senators, and the goal they have sought so courageously is at the heart of the integrity of our democracy — election campaign finance reform.

As Mark Twain once said, we have the finest political system that money can buy -- and it's a disgrace to our democracy. Money is the root of all evil in politics today, and it is responsible in substantial measure for the widespread and increasing alienation from the political process of citizens of all ages and in all parts of the country.

John McCain and Russ Feingold had the political courage to face that challenge head-on, and to demand that Congress take a stand for principle and for clean campaigns, regardless of intense pressures from party leaders and special interest groups.

In the McCain-Feingold Bill, these two impressive Senators insisted that it is time to close the most scandalous loopholes festering in our election laws, and end the corrosive and corrupting power of big money in federal elections.

In a sense, the former Prisoner-of-War and the former Rhodes Scholar are the odd couple - but they are making common cause for true reform. And in doing so, they are bringing us a giant step closer to the ideal of clean elections, and a democracy that fully and fairly reflects the will of a free people. They are true profiles in courage for our time. I'm honored to be here with them today, and I wish we had more like them.

Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the presentation of the 1999 Profile in Courage Award to Senator John McCain and Senator Russell Feingold, May 24, 1999.