Rush Limbaugh’s Presidential Medal of Freedom

Another controversy amid a reality show State of the Union address.

President Trump’s decision to award bombastic talk show host Rush Limbaugh the nation’s highest civilian honor has naturally caused some controversy.

The WaPo headline “Rush Limbaugh joins the likes of Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks as recipient of highest civilian honor” captures it well.

But the Meal of Freedom has moved beyond President Kennedy’s intent of honoring those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Among the 2016 recipients, the last class under President Obama, were basketball stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan; comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres; actors Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Cicely Tyson, and Tom Hanks; and singers Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen. (He would later award one to Vice President Biden near the close of the administration.)

I don’t begrudge any of those people, presumably many of whom were personal heroes of President Obama or otherwise people of whose work he was fond. It’s a singular honor bestowed by the President in the name of the President and chosen by the President. But none of them are exactly Rosa Parks.

One could make the case that Limbaugh’s career was longer and more impactful on the country than many of the Obama honorees. Many of us, alas, would argue that it has been mostly negative. The WaPo story eventually rounds up some of those arguments. But the reception to them is inherently going to be partisan. Conservatives might well counter that Bill Clinton, Barbara Mikulski, John Dingell, and John Paul Stevens, for example, did a lot of harm to the country. All of them were awarded the Medal during Obama’s tenure.

Honestly, my main objection to the Limbaugh award, then, is how it was handled. It was clearly a last-minute whim in response to Limbaugh’s announcement that he has advanced-stage lung cancer rather than a careful assessment of his record. Further, awarding it during a State of the Union address that was full of reality show surprise reveals is simply tacky and unseemly. Ditto having the First Lady, who has no official role in the US Government, awarding it.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    One could make the case that Limbaugh’s career was longer and more impactful on the country than many of the Obama honorees. Many of us, alas, would argue that it has been mostly negative.

    Indeed.

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  2. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner

    Conservatives might well counter that Bill Clinton, Barbara Mikulski, John Dingell, and John Paul Stevens, for example, did a lot of harm to the country. All of them were awarded the Medal during Obama’s tenure.

    This underscores how corrupt the “Conservatives” have been for a long time. That one could and would compare equally a former US President, a five term house and four term Us Senator, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, and a former Supreme Court Justice to a talk show host says it all.

    It’s a ridiculous comparison.

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  3. reid says:

    We need to maintain some sense of objectivity in this (and all things). I agree that entertainers, unless they’ve done something wonderful outside of entertaining, shouldn’t be given the medal. They have their own awards, including lifetime achievement. But let’s not go giving credence to people who think that John Paul Stevens (among others) did a lot of harm comparable to Limbaugh. Down that path lies both-siderism.

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  4. reid says:

    By the way, I mostly agree with you, James, so don’t take my post as a huge criticism. I just have grown sensitive to both-siderism over the years.

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  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Did any of Obama’s PMOF recipients say slavery had it’s good points, the streets were safe after dark? Did any of them call the president’s daughter the White House dog? What’s that? They didn’t? Oh, so there really is no comparison at all.

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  6. CSK says:

    It’s possible, too, that the speed with which the medal was awarded suggests that Limbaugh has much less time left than anyone thinks now.

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Again…the Medal of Freedom now has no meaning.
    In the midst of the Bush Recession Limbaugh said;

    “I hope Obama fails”.

    700,000 people a month losing jobs, all told over 8 million became unemployed. Retirement funds saw their value cut in half. there was an 8% contraction of GDP in a single quarter. Millions of houses went into foreclosure.
    And Limbaugh wanted Obama, in charge of righting the ship, to fail.
    As we now know, Obama did not fail and in fact, despite Republicans forcing austerity upon him, began an 11 year economic expansion.
    Today Trump spends all his time trying to take credit for Obama’s success.
    And Limbaugh was given the Medal of Freedom. Which no longer has any meaning.

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  8. mattbernius says:

    It’s me venting my spleen and being petty, but man — given Trump’s attempts to reach out to black voters last night (and it being black history month and all), its too bad there wasn’t a civil rights icon and longstanding public servant who also recently disclosed having Stage 4 cancer also at the SoTU.

    But then again, I’m not sure he would have been willing to be a prop accept the honor.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: I’m not comparing Clinton et al with Limbaugh in terms of overall accomplishment but in terms of being polarizing figures with whom a large number of Americans might have objection to receiving the Medal.

    @reid: The problem is that roughly 40% of the country thinks Limbaugh is a great American and the others are a scourge on the Republic. There’s not even a meaningful way to have the conversation.

    @reid: I”ve gotten more sensitive to it as well. But I don’ see this as that. (This morning’s SOTU post, discussing the ways in which Trump and Pelosi violated norms, is a bit of that in that they’re vastly unequal in terms of magnitude. But the point there wasn’t comparison but totality.)

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  10. Joe says:

    the speed with which the medal was awarded suggests that Limbaugh has much less time left

    I suspect, CSK, that the precipitous timing of the award to Limbaugh says much more about this President’s miss-no-opportunity approach to using media to feed his base than it says about Mr. Limbaugh’s immediate prognosis.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Joe:
    Oh, probably. Why pass up the opportunity to own the libs in such spectacular fashion?
    Still, what I said might be the case. Or Limbaugh might not be able to travel in the coming weeks.

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  12. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m not comparing Clinton et al with Limbaugh in terms of overall accomplishment but in terms of being polarizing figures with whom a large number of Americans might have objection to receiving the Medal.”

    James, this is textbook ‘bothsiderism’.

    One side is saying ‘he’s popular’; the other is pointing to his actions.

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  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Limbaugh is a liar and hate monger with zero positive accomplishments beyond learning how to make bigotry entertaining. He’s a vile person. Giving him any sort of prize is appalling, but understandable to the extent that one nasty, racist pig is awarding a prize to another.

    Which of Clinton’s or Obama’s honorees was openly and consistently cruel?

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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What did I say in this AM’s Open Forum? Oh yeah:

    I really doubt he is anywhere near bottom. He always finds a way to go lower.

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  15. JKB says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Well, one of the first of those who Obama awarded the medal to in 2009 is documented as to having sexual relationships with multiple underage boys. One he advised and aided in them running away from home to live in San Francisco. The awardee, Harvey Milk, was a gay activist, but also a well known pederast.

    Best stick with complaints about venue, which may have merit.

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  16. Not the IT Dept. says:

    @JKB:

    Then I’m sure you’ll be able to provide the documentation link, assuming there is one. If not, I’ll provide you names of real abusers like Dennis Hastert and Mark Foley. Remember them? Or that teen-wife fan, Roy Moore.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    Via The Independent:

    Donald Trump used to “stroll right in” to the dressing room of beauty pageants while the contestants – some of whom were teenagers – were naked or half-dressed, a former model has claimed.

    Tasha Dixon was 18 when she competed in the Miss USA pageant, winning the state crown.
    “Our first introduction to him was when we were at the dress rehearsal and half naked changing into our bikinis,” Ms Dixon told CBS. “He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked.”

    She added that people who worked for Mr Trump “pressured” the women to “fawn over him, go walk up to him, talk to him, get his attention” while still not fully dressed.
    Ms Dixon added the situation made them feel awkward and physically vulnerable.

    Four women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant also said the Republican used to walk in. Some of the girls were as young as 15.

    Mr Trump said on the Howard Stern radio show in 2005 that he was “allowed”, as the owner of the pageant, to go backstage while the contestants were getting dressed.

    “You know they’re standing there with no clothes. Is everybody OK? And you see these incredible looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.”

    Ms Dixon told CBS she believed that Mr Trump owned the pageant for 19 years because he could “utilise his power around beautiful women” and there was no one above him to complain to.

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  18. Kurtz says:

    Ah, pretty sure being a pederast isn’t necessarily connected to political persuasion.

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  19. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: I see “bothsiderism” is finding a single example of bad conduct from one party and arguing that it’s equivalent to dozens of examples from the other. This isn’t that.

    In terms of accomplishments, I think Limbaugh as deserving as many of the entertainment figures mentioned in the post. He singularly changed political talk radio, saved AM radio, and has been a dominant force in the industry for three decades and then some. He is, in that regard, arguably more deserving than, say, Ellen Degeneres.

    As noted in the linked post on Limbaugh, I happen to think that his overall impact on the political discourse has been bad for the country. Most OTB commenters agree or think that understates things. My simple point here is that there is a plurality of the country who loves Limbaugh and thinks he’s far more deserving than any number of the people Obama awarded the Medal.

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  20. al Ameda says:

    To me, this low-rent-low-ratings media extravaganza was calculated in the same manner and spirit as was Trump’s front-row-seating at a campaign debate, of three of the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. Trump gave his base something of value to them, and most importantly, he wanted to rub Democrats’ noses in a steaming pile of manure.

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  21. Pete S says:

    It is too bad that this was a surprise presentation. Would have liked to see Lamar Jackson and Pat Mahomes invited by the Dems as their guests, just to remind the audience of Limbaugh’s brilliant sports analysis.

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  22. Mister Bluster says:

    Meant to post this here.

    Presidential Medal of Freedom award winner (1981) Kirk Douglas has died at 103.
    Seven Days in May
    1964

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  23. An Interested Party says:

    …one of the first of those who Obama awarded the medal to in 2009 is documented as to having sexual relationships with multiple underage boys.

    Is this what you are referring to?

    In 1964, in his early 30s, Milk began a relationship with Jack McKinley, a theatrical stage manager who was 16 years old when they met in New York.

    The age of consent in California is 18. The SaveCalifornia group, which campaigns almost exclusively in opposition to GLBT rights, says this means that children are being made to celebrate a “sexual predator” in schools even though the age of consent is 16 in most US states.
    McKinley was over 18 when he and Milk first travelled together to California.

    The couple broke up after a five-year relationship and all Milk’s other relationships were with people who were over the age of consent.

    At the risk of being accused of bothsiderism, although a lot of that does seem to be going on lately, I realize that the above isn’t as titillating as stalking underage girls backstage at a beauty pageant or in a shopping mall, but really…

    One he advised and aided in them running away from home to live in San Francisco.

    Oh yes, rather than escaping to a place that had legal protections for them, they should have stayed in places that criminalized them simply because of their sexual orientation…I suppose you also think Cubans shouldn’t have tried to escape from Castro’s political oppression and Haitians shouldn’t have tried to escape from Duvalier’s terror…

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  24. Kingdaddy says:

    Trump and Limbaugh share the same ardor for mocking the disabled:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_fQ3VLSvfI&feature=share

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  25. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    My simple point here is that there is a plurality of the country who loves Limbaugh and thinks he’s far more deserving than any number of the people Obama awarded the Medal.

    Sure. They also believe that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile pizzeria. What’s your point?

    Objectively, Limbaugh has done more harm to more people than almost anyone else in recent American history. You seem to be OK with that, because he was entertaining while doing it. Some of us find that incomprehensible, and sad.

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  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: @JKB:

    Then I’m sure you’ll be able to provide the documentation link, assuming there is one.

    Please note, one and all, that @JKB has kept up his perfect record of never having anything to back up his slanders, in this case his gay-hating slander.

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  27. Charles Lewis says:

    As Rush himself brags on his site:

    Rush Limbaugh, more than any other individual, is responsible for shifting conservative opinion to deny the existence of global warming. As he himself noted, “Somebody spoke up day in and day out and said, ‘This is a hoax,’ That somebody was me.”

    When the future proves Rush not only wrong, but hideously so, it will demonstrate that he deserved the medal of ignorance, not freedom.

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  28. de stijl says:

    Has there been an honoree this blatantly propogandictic before?

    Trump knows his audience.

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  29. Mortimer Nelms says:

    In looking at the full list of recipients it is clear to me there is no objective criteria whatsoever. The award is analogous to the various “employee of the month” schemes I have witnessed over the years. There seems to be a disproportionate number of politicians, celebrities, and sports figures. Several recipients like Bill Cosby and Clark Clifford went to jail. So overall, against this lack of criteria, and given the peer group, Rush L. Was as qualified as most. Let’s do ourselves a favor and eliminate this “Major Award”.

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  30. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl:

    Has there been an honoree this blatantly propogandictic before?

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Rosa Parks’ primary contribution was a staged act of propaganda that was used to launch the Montgomery bus boycotts.

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