I Go for the Medal of Freedom

George Bush has completely debased the once-honored, highest civilian award in the nation. It's as if today the Presidential Medal of Freedom has become the equivalent of political hush money.
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In Thomas Ricks's book, Fiasco, he lays much of the blame for the Iraq War debacle at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Tommy Franks and Paul Bremer.

All three have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Add to that venerable list CIA Director George Tenant. The man who took responsibility for the infamous "16 words" in George Bush's State of the Union speech that were the lie that got us into the Iraq War.

That's quite a quartet. Sort of a bargain-basement Flying Karamazov Brothers of disastrous international politics. Juggling intrigues around one another and shouting, "Opa!!", as the plans zip past their fumbling hands and crash on the ground.

The result is that George Bush has completely debased the once-honored, highest civilian award in the nation. It's as if today the Presidential Medal of Freedom has become the equivalent of political hush money.

This is the Peter Principle gone haywire. The original Principle meant promoting someone past their level of competence. This goes to the next level and actually honors that incompetence. This is taking a screaming child and, rather than sending the brat to his room without dessert, putting him instead onstage at Carnegie Hall.

(In fairness, Mr. Rumsfeld received his under Gerald Ford.)

But it's all part of a pattern, of course. You don't get tangled in the worst foreign policy disaster ever, by accident. You don't nominate Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court as a fluke. John Bolton didn't get to represent the U.S. in the United Nations on a mistaken whim. "Heck of a job, Brownie" was no one-time lapse by the President. The shock wasn't that Mr. Bush praised a man for overseeing the loss of an American city - it's that he didn't give Michael Brown the President Medal of Freedom. Apparently there was too much blame to go around, and if you gave one to Mr. Brown, then every Katrina screw-up would want one. There simply wasn't enough dross to mint that many medals.

But since it's become clear that the Presidential Medal of Freedom has lost all meaning - and valor, decency and honor are off the table as criteria for ennobling America - then that means it's fair game. And that's when it hit me:

If the Iraq Quartet can get the Presidential Medal of Freedom for utter, breathtaking incompetence - then I have a chance!

Look, I think it's unlikely at this point that I'm ever going to win a Nobel Prize, Kennedy Center Honor or AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. And I probably won't be playing shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. I also think it's unlikely that I'm going to win an Olympic medal. (Although I'm holding out hope for making the curling team or four-man bobsled.)

However, I can get the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And I want it. And I think I deserve it, certainly at least as much as Honored Four. Not for the same level of incompetence, of course - what they did was ethereal, almost Shakespearean in a mind-numbing way. But if indeed the Medal is now meaningless, then any reason is as good as any other. And therefore anyone is just as deserving.

With the year coming to a close, therefore, and the President no doubt thinking about what end-of-the-year honors to make, I realized it was time that I make my case.

Stupid things I have done to deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

In college at Northwestern, where the wind chill can reach minus-30 degrees in January, I once signed up for an 8 AM class during winter quarter.

A little kid came trick-or-treating with his father at 10:45 PM, and I gave him a piece of candy, not realizing until later that I should have given him the entire bag.

One night, I told a woman that I didn't like the sautéed carrots she had prepared for dinner.

Three years ago, I broke into my neighbor's home on the knowingly-false pretext that he had my CD of Bach's Mass in B-minor, and as I tore up the place, this got him and his wife fighting with each other over that weapon of Mass distraction, during which I went into their kitchen to get a slice of the delicious yellow cake I knew she'd made, which was the real point of my going there, although I had to stay for a terribly long time afterwards because they'd locked one door and blocked another with a rock, and there was no way out.

If awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I will wear it proudly. It is my fondest hope that it will impress people who don't know me, as well as get me better dinner reservations and out of traffic tickets. I also suspect it should look pretty good on my resume. Just because anyone can now get the Medal of Freedom doesn't mean everyone does.

You just have to know how to screw up properly.


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