The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civil award, and is given to individuals who have contributed to: 1) the security or national interests of the United States, 2) world peace, or 3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
In his new book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor, former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer reveals how politicized the revered Presidential Medal of Freedom became during the Bush administration.
Latimer writes that administration officials objected to giving author J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing “encouraged witchcraft” (p. 201):
This was the same sort of narrow thinking that led people in the White House to actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged withcraft.
Latimer also writes that when he suggested bestowing the honor upon Ted Kennedy, who had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, fellow speechwriter Marc Thiessen objected because Kennedy “was a liberal” (p. 201):
When Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I suggested that the president might at least consider awarding Kennedy the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Marc objected wtih the genteel diplomacy he was known for. “That’s crazy!” he thundered. Kennedy was a liberal, he noted (of which I was well aware).
The Bush administration was notorious for awarding the medal to its staunchest Iraq war allies. Bush’s final three recipients of the Medal of Freedom were two supporters of his war in Iraq — former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard — and leading human rights violator and Bush foreign policy ally Alvaro Uribe. Other recipients included a whole lineup of figures heavily involved in the Iraq war, including Paul Bremer and George Tenet.
When President Obama took office, he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 recipients, including Kennedy and former congressman Jack Kemp, a Republican.