MEDAL OF FREEDOM RECIPIENTS…. The Obama White House announced this morning its first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the top honor a president can bestow on a civilian. The 2009 list includes some clearly worthy individuals. From the press release:

This year’s awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change. Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy, these men and women have changed the world for the better. They have blazed trails and broken down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities.

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. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”

It’s an impressive group of people, made up of Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots organization; Dr. Joe Greer, founder of Camillus House Camillus Health Concern; physicist Stephen Hawking; the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.); Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.); legendary athlete Billie Jean King; the Rev. Joseph Lowery; Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, an author of seminal works in Native American history and culture; the late Harvey Milk, a LGBT civil-rights pioneer; Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; actor Sidney Poitier; entertainer Chita Rivera; former Ireland President Mary Robinson; geneticist Dr. Janet Davison Rowley; South African Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu; and micro-loan pioneer Dr. Muhammad Yunus.

Now, this is a diverse list of exemplary Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients Americans can be proud of. As Amanda Terkel remembered, the last White House had lowered the bar a bit on the civil honor: “The award seems to be finally regaining the honor that it largely lost during the tenure of President Bush, who doled it out to his cronies.”

Quite right. I still cringe a bit when I see photos of Bush honoring Norm Podhoretz, George Tenet, and Paul Bremer.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.