The politics of the 2009 Medal of Freedom

I mentioned at my entertainment blog a bit about some of the Medal of Freedom recipients today. But there were several names I did not highlight or discuss. The reason for that was the fact that I found their announcements to be purely political in nature. I may be wrong, and I am not suggesting that they are unworthy persay, but the feeling I get is that this is politicing on high order.

The recipients that I find political and questionable are Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Rep. Jack Kemp, and Senator Ted Kennedy. My reasons are simple as is the political gain made by awarding each of these individuals.

Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She was the first woman to become a Supreme Court Justice. She is a Breast cancer survivor. And that’s about it.

Political gain – Now I know some will dispute this. Being the first woman on the Supreme Court is a big deal. But it seems that it was not big enough for several years since she retired. And there is nothing that motivates her being given the award now as opposed to after her death. Except that this looks really good with women voters and organizations.

Right now the big question across the nation is health care. For women this is not only an issue for themselves but also their children (no offense to fathers). The debate over reductions in quality of care is something that really has not sat well with women voters. So president Obama needed something to reassure women that he is looking out for them. Thus Justice O’Connor is perfect. Her breast cancer survival is medical, she has claim to a big first, and she is still alive.

But Justice O’Connor is no Justice Thurgood Marshall, nor even a Justice Byron White. She was not great on race issues, Conservatives has no love for her, as Liberals didn’t either. She wasn’t really involved in any major decisions (given that all decisions are major at the Supreme Court level). Were it not for her being the first woman, she likely would never have gotten the Medal of Freedom. So she is just pure political candy.

Rep. Jack Kemp. I wish to speak no ill of the dead. This is not about the Representative but the politics that surround him. He was a decent member of the House and a good football player. He had a solid and respected political career.

Political gain – I hate to say it, but again there is no reason to provide him with the Medal of Freedom other than he died. He just does not rise to the highest of standards above and beyond. But in honoring this Republican former member of Congress and one time Cabinet member, President Obama wins points politically with some independants and Republicans. Or at least he hopes to.

By showing compassion, and being non-partisan with a non-partisan award, President Obama hopes to gain a bit more favor with Conservatives and Republicans across the nation. This is something he needs direly as they are his biggest group of dissenters to date – though many others are joining them. If he can raise his poll numbers with this group I am sure he is hoping to get the first Bill passed with a real Republican support.

But this is perhaps the worst way to gain political support of an opposing party. It looks nice and Kemp supporters will feel nice, but it does nothing to improve the Stimulus, national debt and budget, or Health Care Reform.

Oh, it also helps in another way. It makes his next recipient look less like a political favor.

Senator Ted Kennedy. A noted Liberal Democrat. A powerful political figure with a huge powerbase. And currently recovering from brain surgery.

Political gain – The man is famous. No doubt about it. And he is well loved in his home state, as is anyone from that family. I won’t even dispute that he has great intentions for most of the laws he has passed or tried to pass. But what makes him worthy of getting a Medal of Honor?

The fact that he was elected to the Senate often is not it. The fact that he did his job (sortof, depending on your personal view) and got laws written, or stopped others is his job. He was supposed to do that. Just like Jack Kemp.

But Senator Kennedy is a Democrat icon. And President Obama owes him massively for his support during the early stages of the 2008 campaign. In fact without the endorsement of Sen. Kennedy, it would be President H. Clinton most likely. This is just part of a payback, a means to help ensure that history always holds his name high – just never as high as his brothers.

It’s a rough statement, but it is a political fact. It has to be done before Sen. Kennedy dies. And since Jack Kemp is being used there is a smokescreen to make it less obvious. And he can now bolster his position with Northeast and Liberal Democrats, groups that he desperately needs to stay close to 50% approval and thus ensure passage of the Health Care Reform.

In each case I find that the above people are all great people. They all have wonderful resumes and are deserving of acclaim. I just don’t see them rising to the level of the highest civilian honor. But I do see the huge benefits they all provide politically. And if I am correct, the Medal of Freedom has been diminished.

Some will certainly disagree with my assessment. Which is fine. And if there was some massive, America changing event that was solely and directly the result of their actions I’d like to hear about it. But when I compare these people to others that have also received the Medal of Freedom, the bar just seems lowered a bit.

But if you do disagree, and you don’t have a moment of excellence to provide, please don’t tell me that the award of the Medal of Freedom is not politically motivated. Even with those that are deserving, politics always comes into play – by both political parties. That is one argument that absolutely does not hold water.

About the Author

Michael Vass
Born in 1968, a political commentator for over a decade. Has traveled the U.S. and lived in Moscow and Tsblisi, A former stockbroker and 2014 Congressional candidate. Passionate about politics with emphasis on 1st and 2nd Amendments.

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