The Clinton Administration Considered Awarding Carl Sagan the Medal of Freedom

Efforts by officials to boost famous environmentalists and other “good dead” people, though, were unsuccessful.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
March 14, 2014, 9:39 a.m.

Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials con­sidered award­ing famed as­tro­nomer Carl Sagan the Pres­id­en­tial Medal of Free­dom after his death in 1996, new doc­u­ments re­veal.

Sagan, who is fam­ous for at­tempt­ing to pop­ular­ize sci­ence through movies, books, and tele­vi­sion, had just been honored by NASA when the agency dubbed the Mars Rover land­ing spot as the Carl Sagan Me­mori­al Sta­tion. White House staffers then talked about tak­ing it a step fur­ther.

“I won­der if that boosts Carl Sagan pos­tum­ously [sic] for a Medal of Free­dom,” Shelly Fidler, the chief of staff for the White House Coun­cil on En­vir­on­ment­al Qual­ity, wrote in a 1997 email re­leased Fri­day. “You know he was one of the very first to sound the warn­ing on cli­mate as well.”

She then tossed around a few oth­er names for pos­sible medal win­ners: Frank Sher­wood Row­land, who dis­covered the hole in the ozone lay­er, and en­vir­on­ment­al­ist An­sel Adams. But the White House was com­ing across a com­mon prob­lem.

“We’re hav­ing trouble think­ing up great liv­ing people,” Fidler wrote to Todd Stern, an as­sist­ant to the pres­id­ent and staff sec­ret­ary for the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion. “I guess that’s every­one’s af­flic­tion these days.”

Earli­er in the email, Fidler called Adams “an­oth­er good dead per­son” for the award.

Sagan didn’t end up win­ning the medal, but the idea does show that the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion was at­tempt­ing to boost the pro­file of cli­mate change and the en­vir­on­ment­al move­ment.

One of Sagan’s bet­ter-known con­tri­bu­tions to space ex­plor­a­tion happened in 1990, when he asked NASA to take what is now one of the most fam­ous pho­tos of Earth. The Voy­ager 1 space­craft was leav­ing the sol­ar sys­tem when NASA com­manded it to turn around and take a photo. From 3.7 bil­lion miles away, you can see a “pale blue dot,” Earth.

“There is per­haps no bet­ter demon­stra­tion of the folly of hu­man con­ceits than this dis­tant im­age of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in his book Pale Blue Dot. “To me, it un­der­scores our re­spons­ib­il­ity to deal more kindly with one an­oth­er and to pre­serve and cher­ish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

What We're Following See More »
CNN/ORC
Clinton Ahead by 13 in Early Going
10 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"As Donald Trump captures the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee, a new poll finds he begins his general election campaign well behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The new CNN/ORC Poll, completed ahead of Trump's victory last night, found Clinton leads 54% to 41%, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July. Clinton is also more trusted than Trump on many issues voters rank as critically important, with one big exception. By a 50% to 45% margin, voters say Trump would do a better job handling the economy than Clinton would."

Source:
ACCEPT OR RESIST?
Wall Street Journal, Kristol Reflect Schism on the Right
18 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal sets out to relieve conservatives of the temptation to back a third-party candidate over Donald Trump. "The thought is more tempting this year than most, but it’s still hard to see how this would accomplish more than electing Hillary Clinton and muddling the message from a Trump defeat. ... The usual presidential result is that the party that splinters hands the election to the other, more united party." But in the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol is having none of it: "Serious people, including serious conservatives, cannot acquiesce in Donald Trump as their candidate. ... Donald Trump should not be president of the United States. The Wall Street Journal cannot bring itself to say that. We can say it, we do say it, and we are proud to act accordingly."

NOT WELL FOR THE GOP
The Trump Triumph: How’s It Playing?
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
  • Nate Cohn, New York Times: "There have been 10-point shifts over the general election season before, even if it’s uncommon. But there isn’t much of a precedent for huge swings in races with candidates as well known as Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. A majority of Americans may not like her, but they say they’re scared of him."
  • Roger Simon, PJ Media: "He is particularly fortunate that his opposition, Hillary Clinton, besides still being under threat of indictment and still not having defeated Bernie Sanders (go figure), is a truly uninspiring, almost soporific, figure. ... She's not a star. Trump is. All attention will be on him in the general election. The primaries have shown us what an advantage that is. What that means for American politics may not all be good, but it's true."
  • The editors, The Washington Examiner: "At the very least, Trump owes it to the country he boasts he will 'make great again' to try to demonstrate some seriousness about the office he seeks. He owes this even to those who will never consider voting for him. He can start by swearing off grand displays of aggressive and apparently deliberate ignorance. This is not too much to ask."
FOLLOWS UNITEDHEALTH
Humana Will Also Exit Obamacare Exchanges
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Humana announced it plans to "exit certain statewide individual markets and products 'both on and off [Obamacare] exchange,' the insurer said in its financial results released Monday." The company also said price hikes may be forthcoming, "commensurate with anticipated levels of risk by state." Its individual-market enrollment was down 21% in the first quarter from a year ago.

Source:
‘PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE’
Priebus Asks Party to Unite Behind Trump
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
×