I am doing this for my own sanity. After I researched the post about Rush, I couldn’t stop thinking about the figures who have not received Medals of Freedom. If you think about it, it will drive you crazy too. The honor is now self-defining, like all such honors—the Mark Twain Award and the Kennedy Center Awards come to mind.
The sequence in the post that asked “Why Robert De Niro and not, say, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman or Dustin Hoffman? Why Loretta Lynn and not Johnny Cash? Why Stephen Sondheim and not Jerry Herman? Why Chita Rivera and not Rita Moreno? Why Vin Scully and not Ernie Harwell?” did it to me. President Trump has entered the realm of post mortem MOF honors, for Elvis (if Elvis, why not Buddy Holly?)and Babe Ruth (If Babe, why not…well, there really isn’t anyone like Babe Ruth). I have no problem with either of them: they are clearly cultural icons who changed America. But once we open the doors to the past, there are thousands of important Americans who haven’t been honored.
Every President from Kennedy on has been awarded a medal (JFK, LBJ and Bush I posthumously) except Nixon and Bush II. If dead Presidents are eligible, then where’s Washington? Adams? Jefferson? Madison? Lincoln? FDR? Truman? Ike? Teddy? Trump can make progressives’ heads explode by giving the Medal to Andrew Jackson. He can have a ball with this.
Then there are First Ladies. There are now only four who have been honored: Lady Bird, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, and Nancy Reagan. Talk about arbitrary: Where’s Dolly Madison? Edith Wilson, who was secretly President after Woodrow’s stroke? And of course, Jackie Kennedy. President Trump could begin making up with the Bush family by giving the Medal to Barbara Bush (and he should).
While we’re thinking about the Medal’s bridge-building potential, wouldn’t it be great (and diabolical) for the President to give the honor to the late Senator McCain? Or Mitt Romney’s late father, George? Give the Medal to Never-Trumper George Will; he deserves it.
Then he can make liberals’ heads explode (and conservatives cheer) by giving a posthumous Medal to Andrew Brietbart!
Back to Senators: Trump could really lay it on by including McCain in a package of neglected dead Senators. Daniel Webster! Henry Clay! Robert LaFollete! Robert Taft!
I’m going to close with enough obvious or provocative Medal of Freedom candidates, living and dead and in no order whatsoever,to get you started down this crazy road. I invite your additions in the comments.
Alexander Graham Bell
George M. Cohan
Nat King Cole
James Earl Jones
The Marx Brothers
Abbott and Costello
Davey Crocket! (Bowie! Travis! Bonham! heck, why not all the Alamo defenders?)
Robert E. Lee
George Armstrong Custer
Well, I’m going to stop at Clarence, or I’ll never stop. As you can see, however, either the Presidential Medal Of Freedom is a fair measure of America’s major cultural influencers, or it’s a meaningless record of random appreciation and cynical Presidential political grandstanding.