An examination of the list of individuals who were conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom over the last twenty or so years would move one to wonder what “freedom” has to do with the award. Originally established in 1945 by President Harry Truman, it was intended to be bestowed on military personnel to “recognize notable service in the war.”
President John F. Kennedy reestablished the medal in 1963 as a purely civilian honor. The list of recipients is largely a roster of scoundrels who are noted for having worked to abridge freedom, not promote it.
Not so curiously, in the context of an overall cultural phenomenon, the Medal of Freedom roster is, if seen through a certain prism, the opposite of the list of Nobel Laureate in Literature conferees. With few exceptions, most of the Nobel winners defy memory. Dario Fo in1997? Imre Kertésez in 2002? Naguib Mahfouz in 1988? The citation for Mahfouz reads, “who, through works rich in nuance, now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous, has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.” That was five years before the first World Trade Center bombing; one wonders what “nuanced” works he’s writing now.
Other names are recognizable – such as Harold Pinter, Saul Bellow, and Günter Grass – if only because these literary lights have had more press coverage than the others and have drawn the doting attention of our scrofulous critical establishment. And Günter Grass wrote “frolicsome black fables [that] portray the forgotten face of history.” Frolicsome and forgettable faces?
There are a few “greats” on the Nobel list: Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Sinclair Lewis, George Bernard Shaw, and Henryk Sienkiewicz — and a few of literary notoriety: Gerhart Hauptmann, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, and Jean-Paul Sartre. But, the list is dominated by obscure authors who may or may not be known to the conscientious reader. The Nobel Prize committee for literature hasn’t displayed much prescience in picking memorable writers. Its roster could be dubbed “Authors Anonymous.”
Not so the Medal of Freedom list. At first glance, it seems eclectic. Baseball players and comediennes have received the Medal, such as Jackie Robinson and Martha Raye. Bill Cosby, Plácido Domingo, Jacques Barzun and Arnold Palmer have also received the Medal.
But the Medals list is over-populated with the enemies of freedom and their fellow travelers. Cesar Chavez, James Scott Brady, Albert Shanker, George McGovern, and Morris Udall have received the Medal. Labor leaders Walter Reuther and Lane Kirkland have received it. Civil rights activists – or opportunists – Jesse Jackson and Barbara Jordan have received it.
Clergymen and civil rights leaders pepper the list. Millard D. Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, and his selfless, hammer-and-nail handyman, former President Jimmy Carter, share the list with Elliot Richardson and David Rockefeller. Two advocates of public television have received it, Peggy Charren and Joan Ganz Cooney. Nanny state advocates C. Everett Koop and Justin Dart Jr. have received it. And Generals Colin Powell and Tommy Franks are up there with Rita Moreno, Charlton Heston, Julia Child, and Pope Paul the Second. Losers have every right to commingle and hobnob with winners and the half-dead.
All right. There are a few obscurities, such as Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee Nation leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, a religious leader, and Evelyn Dubrow, a lobbyist. Who? Well, that’s not important. Someone thought they were as prominent and well-known as John Kenneth Galbraith, Estée Lauder and Van Cliburn, who also were recipients.
Humanitarians, philanthropists and “government servants,” however, dominate the Medal of Freedom list, every one of them dedicated to advancing statism in their own, special little way. It is appropriate that it was the pioneer of the “Fascist New Frontier” who redefined the Medal.
The latest recipients are the not-so-odd couple, those notable humanitarians and inseparable golf partners, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who received their Medals in a ceremony in Philadelphia on October 5th. Bush Senior is also having dedicated to him this weekend a billion dollar aircraft carrier, which undoubtedly will be sent out to carry on future charity work around the world. The reader will now understand why the “Medal of Freedom” is a misnomer and a mockery of the idea of freedom. I trust an extensive rehash of the disastrous administrations of these creatures isn’t necessary here.
Suffice to say that “freedom” was not the leitmotif of either of their terms of office, and certainly not the substance of their legislative accomplishments. Bush, among other things, threw away a war, let a dictator remain in power, and spent millions of dollars and American lives to give the Kuwaiti sheiks back our oil fields, in addition to signing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clinton, among other things, “pursued” Osama bin Laden, oversaw the virtual nationalization of the tobacco industry, and endorsed further federal censorship of the airwaves.
So, when one reviews the list of Medal recipients and why they were bestowed an ounce or so of gold hanging from a ribbon, the question should arise in one’s mind: Should the government be in the business of “recognizing” any accomplishments? Military decorations are proper and a means of recognizing and honoring those who risk their lives defending this country. “Civilian” decorations are inherently statist in nature, recognizing as they do statist values and achievements in a nation’s culture. The Medal of “Freedom” has become a status symbol for those who either never understood freedom, or who understood it and have dedicated their lives to destroying it.