The beaming, flushed face of John Howard almost leapt off the pages of the country’s newspapers this morning. The former Prime Minister grinned from ear to ear as his good friend and admirer, outgoing President George Bush, tenderly hung the coveted Medal of Freedom around the Man of Steel’s neck on Tuesday. And why shouldn’t he lap up the moment? After all, the Medal of Freedom is the US’s highest civilian award, and Howard, along with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, was awarded for his efforts as an ally in fighting terrorism.

The medal has been bestowed upon the likes of Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher (presented by George Bush Snr) and John F Kennedy. Clearly this is an honour that is not handed out lightly.

Some presidents, however, were more generous than others. Richard Nixon only awarded ten medals in his time as President (if you include the entire Apollo 13 crew as one recipient, that is). LBJ awarded 27 — recipients included John Steinbeck and Edward R Murrow. President Reagan selected more persons to receive the award, 86, than any other President.

In fact, it’s an interesting mark of each man’s presidency to compare his choice of medal recipients. The medal is awarded by the President to persons “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Dick Cheney scored a medal under the first Bush, as did Lucille Ball, Colin Powell and Johnny Carson. 

As for George Walker Bush, he awarded the medal to Nelson Mandela who, now along with the name John Winston Howard, keeps company with the likes of Placido Domingo, Bill Cosby, Estee Lauder and Doris Day. That’s not to say we’d want to dim the grin of our former Prime Minister.

Peter Fray

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