September 9th, 2009
09:10 PM ET
13 years ago

Obama invokes Kennedy's 'character of America'


During his address before Congress Wednesday, the president share a letter he received from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. (Photo Credit: Pete Souza/Official White House photo distributed via
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama invoked the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Wednesday, citing a letter in which the senator said that health-care reform "is above all a moral issue."

"'At stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country,'" the president said, quoting the letter which Kennedy had written in May and asked to be delivered after his death.

"I've thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days - the character of our country," Obama said to a joint session of Congress. "One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government."

Kennedy recognized, however, that with all of the drive of Americans to stand strong, there comes a time when government must step in to help, Obama said.

"When fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand," the president said, citing "a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise."

Filed under: Health care • President Obama • Ted Kennedy
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Sojourner2008

    I began to cry. . . I also saw Senator Kennedy's friends (not political buddies and foes) Democrat and Republican, get emotional. It was a moment for all to reflect that we are ALL in this together . . We are all Americans.

    September 9, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  2. Alan

    Yep your right Mr President, it seems that the character of America is a drunk that killed a girl, got away with it, and was rewarded by over 40 years in the US Senate. No wonder we are going down the tubes!

    September 9, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  3. malclave

    "Kennedy recognized, however, that with all of the drive of Americans to stand strong, there comes a time when government must step in to help, Obama said."

    Kennedy? Drive?

    I guess that time would be several hours after the fact, when it's too late to rescue the girl.

    September 9, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  4. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC

    "'At stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country,'"

    Why does the phrase "social justice" always boil down to productive, working, Americans being forced to subsidise total strangers?

    And, last I looked, "the character of our country" was one of self-reliance and individual responsibility, not one of whining for hand-outs from the "wealthy."

    September 9, 2009 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  5. anant godbole

    I think Barack Obama hit a high note at the end, establishing a moral high ground, and making the issue of health care one of patriotism

    September 9, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  6. NITA

    It really is a national disgrace that we, the greatest country in the world, does not provide heath care for all of its citizens. It should not be about money but about what is right and what is just. For those who say why the rush – I say what rush? This debate has gone on for almost a century and we're still saying slow down lets talk about this. No it is time to act and I hope that all of our elected officials will get together and make it happen this time.

    September 9, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  7. Willy Brown

    When Obama was noting Ted's letter, did it look like to you that Joe Biden was gonna cry? Awl Joe you big lug.

    September 9, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  8. John, Brooklyn, NY

    It was a beautiful moment.

    September 9, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  9. Nea

    THIS LETTER WAS VERY TOUCHING TO ME! I know some will criticize it but thats ok, Im just glad that Sen.Ted Kennedy had an heart that looks out for someone other than himself and his family, just like this President does.After reading the letter i was almost speechless because so many Americans that dont have health care and so many that gets turn down because of pre-existing condition and thats a down right shame JUST WHEN YOU NEED IT THE MOST YOU LOSES YOUR HEALTH CARE. I PRAY that this congress can come togrther for the American people and i also PRAY for this President that he will stand firm and hold on to what he believe and thats afforable health care for all Americans whether some like or not.

    September 9, 2009 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  10. talkhazin

    Thank you Pres. Obama and Sen. Kennedy for so clearly illustrating the unfairly attacked liberal ideology in both words and action.

    The irony in the debate over big versus small government is that conservatives who claimed a monopoly on Christian America are the biggest opponents of government lending a helping hand in moments of need. I am not religious, but I do believe Jesus heavily invested in the poor and the less well-off.

    The even bigger irony is that some of the biggest failures of government is lack of action and use Gov. Jindal very example Katrina. He actually used the lack of help from the government after Katrina as an example of government does not work.

    Keeping our heads above water is by no means big government or a take over. If it is...government is guilty as charged with socialism and we should immediately discontinue police and fire departments, libraries, Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare food stamps.

    September 9, 2009 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  11. DEBBInola

    Loved that he mentioned SENATOR KENNEDY when the bill is passed, maybe they could name it after Senator Kennedy, he worked so hard for healthcare.............
    Was a great speech and he made what he wanted very clear, and checked the lies being said, by SARAH PALIN and others..
    Love the idea of requiring everyone to have the insurance, just like car insurance we must all have ..
    Competition too, hopefully that will make all our insurance companies drop, its getting crazy.

    September 9, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  12. Slider

    Awwww, ain't that nice?

    Two socialists heading off into the sunset.

    Let's hope they both keep walking.

    September 10, 2009 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  13. Johnny DC

    Yawn. Please.

    September 10, 2009 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  14. Jon Krieger

    By cashing in on the death of ted kennedy Obama proves to me that he has no shame!Obama is blatantly using kennedy's death to demonize and guilt trip anyone who opposes this trillion dollar travesty!I sincerely hope that this whole thing blows up in his face!

    September 10, 2009 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
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