Obama to receive 2017 Profile in Courage Award

Former President Barack Obama will be honored for his political courage and 'enduring commitment to democratic ideals,' the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library announced on Thursday. This year's award marks the centenary of President Kennedy's birth.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Then-President Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington on Jan. 18. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced Thursday that Mr. Obama will receive the 2017 Centennial John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage in a new century.

Since leaving office, former President Barack Obama has stayed largely out of the public eye. In May, however, he will be invited back into the spotlight to receive an award for his political service.

On Thursday, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced that Mr. Obama would be the 2017 recipient of its John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award. Obama is being recognized for a number of principled stances he took as president, including his action on climate change, expansion of health care under the Affordable Care Act, and work to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. 

Though it’s unusual for a president to be presented with the award so soon after leaving office, the Kennedy family and the selection committee agreed that Obama was the logical choice for this year, the centenary of President Kennedy’s birth.

"President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country," Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, said in a statement. "With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our own time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives."

The John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award has been presented annually since 1989. It is named for the late president’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” which tells the stories of eight US politicians who stood up for their principles even if it meant risking their careers. The award is given to politicians who follow their conscience in making similarly controversial decisions and is typically awarded for a single act. 

Obama, however, is being celebrated more broadly for "his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage in a new century," the foundation said. 

Obama is not the only former president to receive the award. Gerald Ford was selected in 2001 for his controversial decision to pardon Richard Nixon, while George H.W. Bush’s decision to roll back his campaign pledge of “No More Taxes” and work across party lines to reduce the deficit made him the 2014 pick.

But why is Obama being recognized so much sooner after leaving office than other presidents? The selection committee was trying to “do something different this year” as a way to honor the centenary of Kennedy’s birth, foundation selection committee chairman Al Hunt, a Bloomberg columnist, told BuzzFeed News. Choosing Obama, whom they see as carrying on Kennedy’s legacy, fit the bill.

The selection is, perhaps, not surprising: Obama is already being recognized as a successful president. He enjoyed high approval ratings as his second term drew to an end, and last month debuted at #12 on C-SPAN’s presidential rankings, which rate presidents on leadership qualities ranging from economic management to moral authority.

Ms. Kennedy, who served as US ambassador to Japan under the Obama administration, and her son, Jack Schlossberg, will present the award on May 7 at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. At the ceremony, Obama is expected to give one of his first speeches since leaving office.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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