The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation recently recognized former Pres. Barack Obama with its prestigious Profile in Courage Award, lauding him for upholding “the highest standards of dignity, decency and integrity.”
Undoubtedly, Pres. Obama demonstrated commendable grace during his presidency —especially when contrasted against the behavior of the current occupant of the White House. Nevertheless, one would be hard pressed to identify any evidence of political courage by him. Certainly not one rising to the level of the award’s soaring criteria that recognizes “public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences.”
On quite the contrary, Obama’s tenure was marked by exceptional political timidity. Despite his overwhelming electoral victory, he demonstrated an unwillingness to confront U.S. banks who precipitated the financial crisis of 2008, opting instead to bail them out with billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of foreclosed homeowners and other victims of their rapacity.
He avoided serious conversations and policies around race, poverty and immigration from fear that they would hurt him politically in light of his own racial background.
Even his signature healthcare initiative was compromised out of political expediency, abandoning a public option, on which he campaigned, instead rewarding drug and insurance cartels at the expense of vulnerable patients. It is true that many Congressional Democrats took politically perilous votes and several paid a heavy price in the 2010 polls. But that reflected their courage, not Obama’s, whose political timidity has now placed his crowning achievement at risk at the hands of the new Republican majority.
Now that he is out office, any illusions that Pres Obama may finally take politically courageous stands in the interests of social, racial or economic justice, unburdened by the pressures of electoral politics, have also evaporated. Like his Democratic predecessor, Pres. Bill Clinton, he is far too busy hauling in the post-presidency loot. As in the $60 million book deal that he and his wife Michelle Obama have signed. Or the $400,000 speaking fee for an hour long speech at a healthcare conference by the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald.
Throughout his term in office, for all his sanctimonious sermons on poverty and race, Obama preferred hobnobbing with Hollywood stars and billionaires, golfing on prized courses or vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard. Out of office, the first media reports captured him kitesurfing with billionaire Richard Branson and sailing on the yacht of another billionaire David Geffen.
We need not grudge Obama these indulgences; he has every right to them. But celebrating him as an epitome of courage. Please!
Unheralded and unsung, dedicated public servants often demonstrate exceptional political courage and pay a heavy price. Obama just isn’t to one of them.
The JFK Profile in Courage Award is another one of those bogus glittering galas designed for the snotty celebrity and celebrity-wannabe set. In truth, Donald Trump epitomizes the award’s spirit and culture best. He has surely demonstrated enormous political chutzpah by defying virtually every third rail in politics. It may well have been for self-serving ends, such as in his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, refuse to release his taxes, or shamelessly promote his family brands, first as candidate and now as president.
He surely does not measure up to the JFK Library’s standards of dignity or decency. The award’s namesake didn’t either. But Trump exemplifies the award’s core criteria of political courage — which Obama lacked — by refusing to be “captive to opinion polls” and demonstrating a willingness to risk “taking unpopular courses of action or offending powerful groups.”
But toasting Trump would crack the Yves Saint Laurent rouge masks of the performers in Camelot.