Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

It is an honor to be part of this presentation of the 1995 Profile in Courage Award.

First of all, I join in paying tribute to the winner of the high school student essay contest. This is the first year of the contest. I had the privilege of reading several of the essays, and I was impressed by their very high quality. Our family's hope is that this annual contest will encourage able students to consider the qualities of leadership and dedication to principle that are so important in public life and for the future of the country.

This is the sixth year of the Profile in Courage Award. As a young Senator in the 1950's, President Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for his book about elected officials in our history who demonstrated an unusually high degree of political courage.

Our family instituted this annual award as a living memorial to my brother, as a way of encouraging contemporary leaders to do what they were elected to do -- to lead, to sail against the wind, not just drift with the prevailing political breeze or pander to public opinion polls, and certainly not kowtow to powerful private interest groups bent on subverting the public interest.

What we're talking about are political leaders who act on principle, who are willing to risk the wrath of their constituents -- and sometimes their own re-election -- in order to do what they truly believe is right. That sort of courage is all too rare in American public life today.

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

This year's Profile in Courage is an excellent choice. I served with Mike Synar of Oklahoma for many years in Congress; I know first-hand about his courage on a wide range of issues -- never afraid to take a stand on principle.

His leadership was consistent, eloquent, effective and extraordinary in confronting special interest groups such as the gun lobby, the tobacco lobby, and the unjustified subsidies for federal land that go to ranchers, mining companies, and timber companies.

It would take a profile in courage to challenge any one of these special interests, and Mike Synar challenged them all -- often all at the same time. He was respected -- even loved – in Congress for the enemies he made.

It took the courage of the long-distance runner to do all that he did for as long as he did. He faced powerful political opposition every mile of the way, but he never hesitated to do what was right.

In the end, after 16 brilliant years in Congress, his special interest opponents caught up with him in 1994, and he lost his seat in Congress. He went down with all flags flying, fighting hard for his principles, and I respect him immensely.

His leadership is a classic example of the kind of political courage that President Kennedy admired and wrote about in his book. The nation needs more elected leaders like Mike Synar, and I'm honored to be here with him today.

Remarks made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the Profile in Courage Award to Mike Synar, May 8, 1995