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.

At a time of great risk and uncertainty for our financial markets and our economy, Sheila Bair has demonstrated skilled leadership, remarkable foresight, and unrelenting dedication to protecting the public interest.

As early as 2001, then working in the Treasury Department, she saw the potential for abuse in the sub-prime lending business, and urged the industry to adopt a set of best practices to minimize risks to the economy. In 2003, she called for serious reform of the federal regulatory system, arguing that existing policy was insufficient to protect the economy and the public from the risks associated with an increasingly complex and rapidly growing financial industry.

As FDIC Chairman at the height of the bull market in 2007, she again recognized the economic threat posed by subprime loans, and the danger of unchecked greed and negligence by well-connected interests. She proposed that subprime mortgage rates be permanently fixed before they ballooned and forced hundreds of thousands of homeowners into foreclosure. Last July, she halted all foreclosures on loans owned by IndyMac Bank following its failure. And she urged that mortgage relief for distressed homeowners be part of the economic rescue plan of 2008.

She stood up for average, taxpaying Americans, and held her ground under intense criticism from political adversaries. Her efforts to include borrowers in the financial rescue plan met with fierce opposition from other officials in the Bush Administration, who blocked her efforts even as the housing crisis and the economy worsened.

But in 2009, under a new administration and with an economy still under stress, many of Sheila Bair’s proposals are now making their way into economic policy. For her enduring courage, integrity and for her farsighted efforts to protect the financial security of the American people , we are pleased to present Sheila Bair 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.