The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civil award, awarded 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.
Today, President Obama announced his first batch of Medal recipients — a bipartisan group of individuals who have “blazed trails and broken down barriers.” The list includes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Republican congressman and NFL quarterback Jack Kemp, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), legendary tennis player Billie Jean King, and LGBT civil rights pioneer Harvey Milk. From Obama’s statement on these recipients, who will be recognized at a ceremony on Aug. 12:
These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.
Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.
The award seems to be finally regaining the honor that it largely lost during the tenure of President Bush, who doled it out to his cronies. Bush’s final three recipients in January 2009 were Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and former Prime Ministers Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and John Howard of Australia, who were recognized for their willingness to be “staunch allies of the United States” — and Bush’s foreign policies.
In fact, support for the Iraq war became a good predictor of whether one would receive the honor. Other recipients included neoconservative godfather Norm Podhoretz (2003), L. Paul Bremer (2004), Gen. Tommy Franks (2004), Gen. Richard Myers (2005), George Tenet (2004), and Gen. Peter Pace (2008). A look back: