medal-of-freedom

Presidents have it in their gift to honor civilians who have served the nation with distinction with prestigious medals that are conferred at White House ceremonies. Of course, there is bound to be controversy about whom presidents choose to honor. In particular, one can hardly expect universal acclaim when presidents honor people who are strongly associated with causes about which the American people are divided. People on the left will be offended when people on the right receive presidential medals, and vice versa.

Naturally, presidents’ ideas about who has served the nation with distinction will be shaped by their beliefs about which causes are good and which are bad. So I am not shocked or scandalized by President Obama’s decision to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest of honors that can be conferred on civilians—on Gloria Steinem, for example. Her aggressive advocacy of abortion (among other liberal causes) strikes the President as a good thing, because he believes that making abortion legal, making it as widely available as possible, and financing it with taxpayer money are all good things. I disagree, but I’m not the President. Barack Obama is the President. As President, he has the right to award presidential medals based on his own best judgments of good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice.

So I’m not complaining—-about that.

I am complaining, however, about the President’s decision to confer the Medal of Freedom on William Jefferson Clinton. This is indefensible. President Clinton disgraced the office that he held and Barack Obama now holds. The less important dimension of this disgracing of the presidency was Clinton’s carrying on a sordid affair with a White House intern. The more important dimensions were his lying to the American people, his perjury, and his obstruction of justice. For the latter two offenses, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although he survived a Senate trial that would have removed him from office, the state in which he was licensed to practice law (Arkansas) punished his offenses against the system of justice he was sworn to uphold with a suspension of his law license.

To me, it was scandalous for President Obama to honor such a man with the nation’s highest civilian award—or any award. This is not a case of honoring someone for service to a cause (for example, abortion) that some people, including the President, think is good and I and others think is bad. It is a case of honoring a man who shamefully dishonored the high office entrusted to him by the American people by a series of acts that are not defended—and cannot be defended—by anyone.

Some of my fellow pro-lifers will say that what Steinem advocates (the taking of innocent human life) is far worse than what Clinton did (the affair, the lying, the perjury, the obstruction of justice). I agree. So if I were president, there is zero chance that Gloria Steinem would get a medal of any kind. But again, I am not president. The American people (to my inestimable regret) elected Barack Obama to that office. Elections have consequences. As president, he has the right to confer medals on people who, in his judgment, have served the nation with distinction by championing causes that are, again in his judgment, good ones. So if there is a scandal, it is in Obama’s extreme pro-abortionism (see here , here , and here )—-the extremism that causes him to believe that a person like Gloria Steinem deserves to be honored by the nation. Given his beliefs about abortion, however misguided, his giving the medal to Steinem makes perfect sense.

Consider how different the situation is with Clinton, however. President Obama doesn’t say (and, I must assume, doesn’t believe) that having affairs with White House interns, lying to the American people, testifying falsely under oath, suborning the perjury of others, hiding evidence from courts, and the like are good things. (By the way, I won’t even go into the corrupt pardons—Mark Rich and the rest—since there is no need to pile on.) He knows that they are bad things. And when done by a person sworn “faithfully to execute the laws,” and most especially when done by the chief executive of the United States, they are an outrage and an utter disgrace. (I realize that Obama himself has rather flagrantly lied to the American people about healthcare and Benghazi, but lay that aside for the moment.) That doesn’t mean we need to hound Bill Clinton. And his offenses are by no means unforgiveable (after all, we are all sinners and have fallen short). But for heaven’s sake, it does mean that his successors should not be conferring the nation’s highest civilian honors on him. Just as elections have consequences, criminal acts performed while serving as President of the United States have consequences—or should have.

I do not deny that a person can be great—and merit high honors—despite moral lapses. But even if Bill Clinton were truly repentant—which, as far as I am aware, we have no reason to suppose—and even if he were great—which, in my opinion, he most definitely is not—among the consequences of disgracing one’s office by committing criminal acts should be no national honors for one’s conduct in office. That is hardly a harsh principle or a cruel judgment. Other people have actually gone to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. Indeed, some who went to jail for those crimes—including lying about sex—were successfully prosecuted by the Clinton administration’s Department of Justice. Please pause for a moment, gentle reader, to think about that.

Of course, what’s done is done. Barack Obama has conferred the Medal of Freedom on Bill Clinton. History cannot be reversed. As President Clinton’s die hard supporters insisted at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, it’s time to “move on.” So let’s do that. Memo to the next Republican President. The Medal of Freedom can be conferred posthumously. I have two words for you: Henry Hyde.

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