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December 11, 2008

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Colson had a religious awakening in prison. That means a lot of things, some of which I find congenial and others I do not. But he has worked to promote prisoner rehabilitation and reform of the prison system in the United States. He disdains what he calls the "lock 'em and leave 'em" warehousing approach to criminal justice. He also led the effort that released Ellen Morgan from prison. Look that up. It was a Very Big Deal.

I'm not saying I think Colson is a saint. He isn't. But it is at least arguable that he rehabilitated himself and did some pretty good works.

I wish people who were not old people like me would have a sense of history.

As Colson wrote in "Born Again," he was "valuable to the President ... because I was willing ... to be ruthless in getting things done." That's enough to ingratiate himself to all Repug presidents forever. So you gotta think there's some perverse logic behind the award.

According to Wikipedia's entry on Colson, the comment about his grandmother is often attributed to him, but it may not be historically accurate. It's totally consistent with who he is, though.

Paul, a little nitpick to help anyone who may try to look it up. It was Elizabeth Morgan that Colson led the effort to release from prison. Ellen Morgan was the daughter who was the focus of the custody battle.

Paul Camp is correct about Colson's good works. It's also true that Colson has been a major figure in the Christian Right political movement, and a supporter of both Intelligent Design and California's Proposition 8. We can all have our own opinions on which inspired the award.

It just gets better and better doesn't it?

I have no reason to doubt that Chuck Colson has done some real good works in his life. I just find interesting the contrast between the treatment of Colson (Presidential Medal of Freedom) and the continuing right-wing attacks on "unrepentant terrorist" William Ayers.

I think the difference has something to do with his being repentant, and the unrepentant terrorist NOT being repentant.

Brett: I think the difference has something to do with his [unremitting loyalty to the Republican party], and [all Bill Ayers' expressions of repentance being ignored].

Fixed that for you.

I think the difference has something to do with his being repentant, and the unrepentant terrorist NOT being repentant.

If your only concern is with what you like to imagine is in people's heads and hearts, rather than the actual effects on the country and its people of what they do, sure.

oh come now, Republicans are well known for believing that a person can change his heart.

just ask Senator Byrd, or John Kerry, or Barack Obama - the GOP never brings up anything from their distant past!

I appreciate that Colson is no longer devoting himself to undermining democratic governance in the US, and that he is now doing constructive things with his life.

Well done on his part.

But there are thousands upon thousands of people who have spent their entire adult lives, often at some cost to themselves, working for human rights in one way or another.

Colson was the best guy they could find to celebrate Human Rights Day?

Thanks -

I heard he is also a Christian.

when I think of "good judges of people's exemplary service", George W. Bush doesn't exactly leap to mind either.

You Libs just can't resist the Hitlerizationizing of Bush!

The Colson thing is all about conservative Christianism (and negotiation). If Colson had been a relatively inoffensive public official who, in later years, devoted himself to good works, he probably wouldn't be getting this award from Bush (since nobody would be lobbying for it). But since he was such a Creep during the Nixon years and was then born again in prison and THEN devoted himself to said good works, voila. In other words, being really bad is a requisite for becoming really good. It's all about the absolute value of the distance between bad and good - the worse you were, the better you are now. Bush himself got his reward for being born again and stopping drinking: the presidency. Nice. Man, it sure does pay to be in the right Party...I mean, the right religion! Just think if someone like Saddam Hussien had been born again (as a Christian) - he'd be not only alive, but one of the greatest people on earth!

The father in the Prodigal Son celebrated that son's return, but didn't actually give him an *award*.

Word is that it was down to giving this award to either Colson or Karla Faye Tucker (in 'absentia'). For whatever reason, Bush chose Chuck.

Lookout, I'm loose. I figured Mr. Colson, who subsequently found God and has since led an exemplary life, should indeed deserve the award for taking good advantage of his 'second chance'. Then I read where he was involved with Teamster Thugs and I've turned. Thanks hilzoy, this guy truly is undeserving. Boooo.

Colson's sins at the behest of Nixon were such that he ought to have spent the rest of his life publicly atoning for them, not just dropping a mea culpa and rejoining the front lines of the culture wars.

As Gary Farber has chronicled over at his site, Colson reveled in the rancid anti-Semitism and racism in the Nixon White House.

Cripes.

Will James Earl Ray get a posthumous marksmanof the year award from the NRA?

I've always enjoyed Obsidian Wings and generally find the thoughts here even-handed and worthwhile, which isn't something you can say of most blogs.

But this is silly.

Once a crook, always a crook? Is that the standard being applied here? Its a fairly absurd standard, which fails to take into account the last thirty years of the man's life.

There is, of course, the Bill Ayers equivalency problem; I don't know that I have a lot to say about that, other than that (a) Bill Ayers doesn't bother me too much (and he certainly didn't have any bearing on my vote, which was cast for Obama in any case) and (b) I think this hardly helps the case that the Colson award is scandalous, as we have a fairly similar situation in which a person committed some wrong acts in the past and yet has a record of decades of acts that show the original sins are hardly the sum total of that person's character.

Or perhaps the problem is, as Mike Schilling suggests, that, while he may no longer be a crook, he is still a social conservative, and that is enough to disqualify him from being worthy of this medal. Also silly (because if we disqualified all persons with strongly-held beliefs about controversial issues, then we'd be left with a rather small, likely quite boring, and possibly incredibly ignorant group of potential recepients).

And finally, to address russell's point -- Colson is not exactly the only person receiving this award. I didn't count, but I'd guess twenty? Maybe a few less, maybe a few more. (Though I'm sure russell's right in that there are probably more deserving people who we've never heard of and never will -- but I don't think that counts as a reason to be outraged)

The prison work may be good, but Colson post-conversion is still a wingnut jerk in most other ways. He was a major proponent of the idea that God wanted us to invade Iraq, and did a lot to push the Prop 8 crap in California. These are destructive acts.

Also, when the identity of Deep Throat was revealed and Colson was asked for a response as a former Watergate player, his response boiled down to "stop snitching."

When he was governor, Bush invited Chuck Colson to bring his (literalist, fundamentalist Protestant) Prison Fellowship program into the Texas prisons, as a showcase for the "faith-based initiative" patronage scam (through which millions of tax dollars continue to be shoveled to sectarian, right-wing, Republican-supporting organizations).

The mutual backscratching paid off for both partners. Colson's program was given a big national boost by the visibility gained during Bush's campaign -- and by the bogus, cherry-picked statistics of the program's supposed success at reducing recidivism in a "study" published by the Texas prisons in 2003. [The public discrediting of these numbers has done nothing to stop Colson from citing them; he did so most recently in his latest book, published this year.]

He was a lying, criminally amoral political operative until he was caught in his crimes. Then he embraced fundamentalist Christianity. He never stopped lying or being a political operative.

The equivalence would be if (thought experiment) in 2009, President Obama were to award the Presidential Citizens Medal to Bill Ayers.

Even if we presume Bill Ayers and Chuck Colson are equally vile, no one was awarding Ayers a medal: the right attacked him simply because they perceived his past history and his present association with Obama made him a weapon they could use against Obama.

The situation is entirely different with Chuck Colson. George W. Bush wasn't savagely attacked by the blogosphere for inviting Colson to the White House (admittedly, on the list of sins committed by Bush in office, this comes quite a long way down...).

Agreeing that a person has lived down his past crimes is kind of different from arguing that they deserve a medal...

But this is silly.

Oh, please stop spanking us on our little wet noses! It stings so much when you call us Silly!

Once a crook, always a crook? Is that the standard being applied here?

Too bad you asked that question rhetorically rather than actually (and honestly), because if you had done the latter, you would have to suffer an answer, which is obviously 'no'. The standard here is that Colson doesn't deserve the second highest civilian award a president can give.

perhaps the problem is, as Mike Schilling suggests, that, while he may no longer be a crook, he is still a social conservative, and that is enough to disqualify him from being worthy of this medal.

A pretty argument, counselor. Deliberate obfuscation like that doesn't grow on trees! First, you simply assume a priori that Colson deserves the award, when in fact, whether he does or not is the very question at issue here. Then you interpret Mike's comment to imply the opposite of what it does, which is that his being a politically active social conservative *is* the reason for his getting this award.

Why do you do this stuff? All snark aside. I understand why compensated political actors spin up stuff like this, but (assuming you aren't one of those) why you, and so many others, periodically? You won't convince anyone. Honest question.

...the right attacked [Ayers] simply because they perceived his past history and his present association with Obama made him a weapon they could use against Obama.

Yes, and on top of that the right has never forgiven anyone who was active in the movement against the Vietnam war. They're viewed as outright traitors and fifth-columnists whose betrayal undermined support for the war and "lost" Vietnam -- the first military defeat in U.S. history.

The episode of Kerry and the Swiftboaters is only the most prominent example among many. To the right, Kerry was the worst offender: a decorated veteran who very publicly, and effectively, turned against the war.

Unlike Ayers and Obama, McCain was allowed to "pal around" with aspiring terrorist Gordon ("Go for the Head Shot") Liddy, Chuck Colson's colleague, without serious challenge -- except from David Letterman, who pressed him fairly hard on the issue.

jonnybutter:

Too bad you asked that question rhetorically rather than actually (and honestly), because if you had done the latter, you would have to suffer an answer, which is obviously 'no'. The standard here is that Colson doesn't deserve the second highest civilian award a president can give.

It is true that I asked the question rhetorically; but I hardly think it was unfair, given that all of hilzoy's objections to Colson's character referred to events that took place in the 1970's, ignoring anything that happened since, which many reasonable people would seem to think has included a great deal of rehabilitation of his character, whether or not you find his stances on social issues disturbing (and, yes, I see the points Nell brings up, and, no, I do not know whether Nell is correct or incorrect -- but Nell's points were not part of hilzoy's original post -- had they been, I doubt I would have objected to the post).

If, for instance, hilzoy had mentioned his signature on the Land Letter, that would be a quite different and more reasonable standard, because it would have suggested that any good Colson may have done for the country through his prison work is outweighed by the damage done by endorsing the invasion of Iraq.

Or perhaps hilzoy could have said something like "I am aware that Colson has done a lot since his prison term which contradicts the picture of his character we get from his actions in the 70's, but I think that his actions in the 1970s were so heinous as to disqualify him from receiving the medal despite his actions in more recent years". That too would have been a reasonable argument, whether or not it is correct.

But to argue that heinous acts at one point in a person's life remove that person from consideration for a list of people who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation", particularly without an attempt to weigh the evidence on both sides, seems to me to preclude the possibility of redemption in an extremely unhelpful way.

And that's the parallel with Ayers -- not that being awarded a presidential medal and being vaguely and tangentially associated with a presidential candidate are identical (they're obviously not, and Jesurgislac is right to point that out) -- but that in both cases we (a very vague we, I know -- I should probably say 'some people', but I want to include myself with the guilty party) are too quick, I think, to exclude the possibility of redemption, of the fundmental alteration of character.

A pretty argument, counselor. Deliberate obfuscation like that doesn't grow on trees! First, you simply assume a priori that Colson deserves the award, when in fact, whether he does or not is the very question at issue here. Then you interpret Mike's comment to imply the opposite of what it does, which is that his being a politically active social conservative *is* the reason for his getting this award.

You're right, I misinterpreted Mike's post. My apologies. It certainly wasn't intentional, nor was it an attempt at 'deliberate obfuscation', though I can't prove that.

Why do you do this stuff? All snark aside. I understand why compensated political actors spin up stuff like this, but (assuming you aren't one of those) why you, and so many others, periodically? You won't convince anyone. Honest question.

It's disappointing to hear that I won't convince anyone, though whether or not you speak for everyone on the internet is probably an open question. But the honest answer is something like "because I generally find politics too filled with the assumption that our political opponents are not just wrong, but evil, and so I do what I can when I get the chance to argue for extending generosity in the judgment of others' character". Not much more or less than that.

ONCE A CROOK, ALWAYS A CROOK.

yes.

it doesn't matter if chuck colson is "redeemed" or not. maybe he saved a million starving babies from the Nazis after his redemption. IT DOESN'T MATTER. He will always be tainted by his past crimes.

Once a crook, always a crook.

It went on his "permanent record".

My mother knew this. George Carlin knew it.

There's so many Americans walking around with a "permanent record", thanks to the Republican Party war on crime, that I figure Colson can live with the rap, the thug.

What? Now we have redemption in this country?

Tell it to the permanently fucked millions.

Rob -- I'm the guy who initially pointed out the contrast between the right's/Bush's positions toward Ayers and Colson. I like the fact that you don't take a black-and-white position on the issues, and that you appear to acknowledge that almost every dispute includes shades of gray. I wish that more people in general, including people on thoughtful blogs like this one, approached matters within that framework.

This guy tried to frame Kennedy for the Diem coup. Does no-one here understand how insanely treasonous this is?

Rob:


I'm sorry to have ascribed bad faith to you if you didn't deserve that. When commentors set up a series of strawmen, I usually assume they did it on purpose, but that may not be fair.

It's disappointing to hear that I won't convince anyone, though whether or not you speak for everyone on the internet is probably an open question.

'Probably'?

The question is not whether a person who has erred can or can't be redeemed, or whether I think Colson, or those who disagree with me politically, are evil. The question isn't even really about Colson's character. It's whether a person with such an ugly past deserves a very high, very optional, relatively rare, special award for (ostensibly or truly) having a change of heart. It's more about Bush and his own very bad character than it is about Colson, really.

And I don't think there's any high outrage here. This is so far down the list of the current Administration's misdeeds that it probably belongs in 'Appendix XX'. But it does stink.

After being born again and spending 14 years as a model prisoner, Karla Faye Tucker didn't want an award, or to get out of prison for the murders she committed. She wanted to spend the rest of her life in prison ministering to other prisoners, and lots of people around the world, including the Pope, the prison warden, and the prison chaplin (whom she married) vouched for her sincerity. Bush mocked her and let her be executed. She couldn't spend the rest of her life in prison - she *had* to die.

What's the difference between the two? Colson was a merely a sort of domestic terrorist, not an everyday murderer, but what else? The answer is that Karla Faye Tucker was a nobody, while Colson was and is politically connected.

[[He was a lying, criminally amoral political operative until he was caught in his crimes. Then he embraced fundamentalist Christianity. He never stopped lying or being a political operative.]]

Amen. When I covered the 1996 gathering of the Promise Keepers Christian group at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he endorsed the GOP candidate for governor from the podium. As the leader of a nonprofit, he had to know that doing so could endanger PK's tax-exempt status (and boy howdy, did that group distance itself quickly from Colson's remarks). But apparently being a GOP team player was more important to him than his host group's financial lifeblood.

And you Colson-medal defenders need a little perspective. I doubt many here would object to Colson's receiving a civilian medal if, for example, he had saved someone's life at great peril to his own. That kind of medal is for a one-time act. But the one he got is more on the order of a lifetime-achievement award, and by that standard, Colson not only doesn't deserve the medal, he ranks as an amoral lowlife even with his (not-so-effective) prison work taken well into account.

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