President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor to 16 "agents of change" on Wednesday, highlighting their accomplishments as examples of the heights a person can reach and the difference they can make in the lives of others.
Film star Sidney Poitier, civil rights icon the Rev. Joseph Lowery and tennis legend Billie Jean King joined former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in receiving the honor, the first such medals awarded by Obama.
So which president decided it was his role to honor people for achievements that are typically independent of the state? Who decided that the President was the ultimate arbiter of cultural achievement, thereby advancing the cult of the presidency?
It seems that JFK really initiated the Presidential Medal of Freedom in its current form (Truman used it for civilian contributions to the efforts of WWII).