In 2004 George W. Bush decided to award the Medal of Freedom to three people all "central to his early Iraq policy." Here is a list of past recipients. Bush's choices included many sports heroes, soldiers or veterans, and political figures (William Safire and Charlton Heston)
President Obama chose to award America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to agents of change....a fitting choice, given his own barrier breaking as the first African-American president. Obama said, "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."
And here are Obama's nominees.
Nancy Goodman Brinker--founded the Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Pedro José Greer, Jr.--humanitarian physician who serves the poor and homeless
Stephen Hawking--internationally recognized theoretical physicist with a motor neuron disease.
Jack Kemp--a self-described "bleeding heart conservative" who worked to encourage development in underserved urban communities
Sen. Edward Kennedy--of the greatest lawmakers – and leaders – of our time
Billie Jean King--helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life; also one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America
Rev. Joseph Lowery--a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow--last living Plains Indian war chief and author of seminal works in Native American history and culture
Harvey Milk--first openly gay elected official from a major city in the U.S.
Sandra Day O’Connor--first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court.
Sidney Poitier--groundbreaking actor, becoming the top black movie star in the 1950s and 1960s; first African-American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United States
Chita Rivera--accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer; winner of two Tony Awards and received seven more nominations while breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps
Mary Robinson--first female President of Ireland (1990 – 1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 – 2002),
Janet Davison Rowley, M.D.--American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers
Desmond Tutu--Anglican Archbishop emeritus and leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa
Dr. Muhammad Yunus--global leader in anti-poverty efforts and pioneered the use of "micro-loans" to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral; Nobel Peace Prize winner
Makes me proud to be an American to see these amazing accomplishments honored with such a high-profile award.