Ever since George Tenet won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the award seems to have lost some of its luster. It’s much like the Nobel Peace Prize; once you have given the award to someone who exhibits the exact opposite qualities that should be recognized, all credibility in the prize is lost.
In the case of the mis-named Peace Prize, you can point to several recipients in the last quarter century who have been named champions of peace but were actually murderers and thugs. Yassar Arafat comes immediately to mind. Then there were to enablers of murderous thugs like Kofi Anan and Jimmy Carter. The moral universe inhabited by the Nobel Committee is not the same one you and I live in. They have forever cheapened an award that at one time, was recognized as a singular honor.
The same holds true for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2004, the “Triumvirate of Failure” that included Tenet, Paul Bremer, and Tommy Franks all won the award. Bremer’s incompetence in Iraq has been well documented as has Frank’s wrong headed insistence on pursuing strategies that helped turn the population of Iraq against us and fire up the insurgency.
But it is Tenet – the most spectacular failure as a DCI in history – who should never have even gotten a whiff of the Medal of Freedom. As DCI, his responsibility was to see that our elected officials had the best intel available in order for them to formulate plans and policies to protect us from foreign threats.;
A glance at Tenet’s record of “surprises” he presented policymakers should make anyone who cares about the Medal of Freedom honorees weep in frustration:
- Failed – African embassy bombings in 1998
- Failed – No clue that Pakistan was ready to conduct nuke test – 1998
- Failed – USS Cole terrorist attack – 2000
- Failed – September 11, 2001
- Failed – Iraq WMD
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more screwups that are classified. Blunder after blunder can be laid at the feet of this man and yet, George Bush saw fit to elevate Tenet and place him on the same pedestal as Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Elmo Zumwalt, Gerry Ford, and Irving Kristol. It was the most incomprehensible choice in the history of the award.
This is the burden recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom must carry this year; the realization that the award has forever been cheapened by naming an incompetent and vindictive public servant as a prize winner.
Be that as it may, there are several deserving individuals on this year’s list. Some of them include:
- Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban human rights activist who is serving a 25 year jail term in Castro’s workers’ paradise for “disorderly conduct and counter-revolutionary activities.”
- Francis S. Collins, director of the Human Genome Project. Collins importance to the project cannot be overstated. He fought long and hard to keep the project out of the hands of for-profit corporations who wanted to patent discoveries made before releasing the information to the scientific community. Collins won out and the spectacular results of his research – sequencing nearly 3 billion base pairs which has resulted in an explosion of knowledge the likes of which has rarely been seen in the history of science – is immediately available to any scientist in the world.
- Benjamin L. Hooks led the NAACP for more than 15 years. One of the only black leaders to endorse Republican presidential candidates, Hooks nevertheless felt GOP Administrations never did enough for the inner city poor or for public education. His self-help message for African Americans was also a cause of friction with many civil rights leaders. He sought to make the NAACP something more than just another Washington lobbying group by educating young blacks about the struggle in the 1950’s and ‘60’s for civil rights. In the end, he was less than successful in this effort as the NAACP has since become the most prominent proponent of the “victim culture” in the country.
- Brian Lamb, CEO of C-Span. It can be argued that Lamb’s singular vision of a network that broadcasts what is going on in the people’s house changed our politics forever. It’s not the numbers of people who watch the three C-Span networks that makes Lamb a deserving recipient. It’s the idea that democracy is a participatory form of government and that people must be well informed in order to make decisions on who should lead us. And the fact that C-Span has grown into a forum for not just legislation, but politics, books, film, and culture is a testament to Lamb’s remarkable leadership.
Other recipients of this year’s award can be found here.