Former President Barack Obama has urged Americans to “stand up to hate” at a time when the political landscape is deeply divided.
“Everywhere we see the refuge of falling into tribe and clan and anger at those who don’t look like us, or have the same surnames, or pray the way we do,” he told an audience as he accepted an award from the late President John F Kennedy’s family.
Mr Obama did not make partisan attacks or mention his successor, President Donald Trump, who has often criticised the previous administration and has worked to undo a number of the Democrat's initiatives
“At such moments courage is necessary," Mr Obama said on accepting the Profile in Courage Award. "At such moments we need courage to stand up to hate. Not just in others, but in ourselves.
“At such moments we need the courage to stand up to dogma. Not just in others, but in ourselves.”
The award recognises displays of courage similar to those described in Mr Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, which is given in recognition of individuals risking their careers or lives acting according to their conscience.
Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of Mr Kennedy, who presented Mr Obama with the award, said: “Today, when many doubt the integrity of our elected leaders, this award is more important than ever.”
Mr Obama also used the speech to make his first public comments since leaving office on the push to repeal his signature health care plan, imploring members of Congress on Sunday to demonstrate political courage even if it rails against their party's positions.
The former president recalled members of Congress who voted to pass the Affordable Care Act during his presidency, only to lose their seat in later elections.
“They had a chance to insure millions,” he said. “But this vote could also cost them their seats, perhaps end their political careers.”
Mr Obama made no direct reference to Thursday's House vote to dismantle much of the health care law, but said that while it did not take courage to help the rich and powerful, it does require courage to help the sick and vulnerable.
“It is my fervent hope and the hope of millions ... such courage is still possible, that today's members of Congress regardless of party are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth, even when it contradicts party positions,” said Mr Obama, whose appeal seemed to focus on wavering Republicans.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans to attend the dinner, told reporters the Senate would write its own version of the legislation and he did not expect the House bill to survive intact.
The former President focused much of his address on the legacy of President Kennedy, as the library prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth later this month. Mr Obama noted the Kennedys had long advocated for health care reform, and in particular, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who died of brain cancer before passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Among the guests who made their way down the red carpet into the library for the event were representatives of the Kennedy family, members of Congress, former Obama staffers and celebrities including former late-night talk show host David Letterman. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State John Kerry also were in attendance.
US Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Obama earned the award by meeting many challenges that faced him during his presidency.
“It's about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn't necessarily popular,” said Mr Kennedy, a harsh critic of the Republican health overhaul plan.
Mr Obama travels to Italy this week to give a keynote address on climate change and food security at Tuesday's Seeds and Chips Global Food Innovation Summit in Milan.
Associated Press contributed to this report
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies