Bush Applauds Recipients of 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom
President Bush honored the recipients of the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony November 5, noting that each of the eight recipients "came to this distinction by very different paths."
The Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that a U.S. president can bestow, "is designed to recognize great contributions to national security, the cause of peace and freedom, science, the arts, literature, and many other fields," said Bush.
One of the honorees, Gary Becker, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1992. He is a leading exponent of the study of human capital (which explores how environment, education and personal habits can help predict success or failure), and has written about the economic aspects of racial discrimination, crime, family organization and drug addiction.
Becker's writings have "proved him to be a thinker of originality and clarity," said the president. "Dr. Becker has shown that economic principles ... [can] help to explain human behavior in fields well beyond economics."
Another honoree, Cuban human rights activist Oscar Elias Biscet, is a physician who has been imprisoned by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro since 2003. Biscet is also the founder of the Lawton Foundation, a nongovernmental organization established in 1997 that defends human rights and denounces violations in Cuba and elsewhere.
"Dr. Biscet is not with us today because he is a political prisoner of the regime in Havana," Bush said. "For speaking the truth, Dr. Biscet has endured repeated harassment, beatings and detentions. The international community agrees that Dr. Biscet's imprisonment is unjust, yet the [Castro] regime has refused every call for his release." Biscet's son accepted the award on his father's behalf at the White House ceremony.
Bush called medal recipient Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, another strong voice for democracy and human rights. When a corrupt cabal seized power in Liberia and plunged the country into civil war, "Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stood up for the rights of her fellow citizens," said Bush. "She never wavered, even though the consequences were house arrest, foreign exile, death threats and imprisonment."
Then, "when free elections returned to Liberia, the voters made history," he added. "They chose her to be the first woman ever elected to lead a nation on the continent of Africa."
A fourth medal recipient, scientist Francis Collins, is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Charged with the ambitious task of mapping the entire human genome, he led the project "to full and thrilling success," said Bush. "With genetic mapping, researchers know more than ever before about the hereditary influences behind cancer, and heart disease, and diabetes, and many other conditions. And that understanding holds the key to earlier detection of illness, individualized treatments, and even lifesaving cures."
Medal recipient Benjamin Hooks, a civil rights activist, grew up in the segregated South and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After his wartime service, he earned a law degree, became an ordained minister and devoted himself to ending segregation in the United States.
Hooks "joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was an early crusader in that great movement," said Bush, but "the nation best remembers Benjamin Hooks as the leader of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. ... He never tired or faltered in demanding that our nation live up to its founding ideals of liberty and equality."
Medal recipient Harper Lee stirred the nation's conscience in much the same way, Bush said. Lee is best known as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a small-town lawyer in the American South who defends a black man unjustly accused of rape. Lee's novel "has influenced the character of our country for the better," said Bush. "It's been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever."
Former Representative Henry Hyde (Republican from Illinois) and Brian Lamb, founder of television's Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), also received the 2007 Medal of Freedom. Bush described Hyde as "a towering figure on Capitol Hill ... [who] used his persuasive powers for noble causes." Throughout his career, Hyde "was a gallant champion of the weak and forgotten" who was popular with Republicans and Democrats alike.
Lamb, who established C-SPAN to televise congressional hearings, campaign events and conferences live and in full, created "a tool that enlivens democracy, and informs and educates citizens," said Bush. The president praised C-SPAN for its nonpartisan approach, and cited Lamb for his achievements in broadcast journalism and "his high standards and contribution to our democracy."