President Obama will bestow Presidential Medal of Freedom awards on Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton, the two public figures perhaps most responsible for his election and reelection as president.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” Obama said in a statement Thursday. But one life Winfrey and Clinton have particularly enriched is Obama’s.
Winfrey, who at the time was described as the most influential woman in the world, first endorsed Obama for president in 2006, well before the 2008 primaries even began. Her forceful and sustained effort supporting and promoting Obama played a critical role in his successful drive to rend the Democratic nomination from the favorite, Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton put aside bitterness over the 2008 campaign and became instrumental in Obama’s 2012 reelection effort. Clinton’s 49-minute speech at the Democratic convention was judged an instant classic that set Democrats on fire and made a stirring case for Obama’s candidacy.
Clinton, who also campaigned aggressively for Obama, was labeled “our most valuable player” by Obama strategist David Axelrod. Obama called Clinton to thank him on the night of his reelection, right after speaking with Mitt Romney.
Obama has a history of awarding Presidential Medals of Freedom to his political benefactors.
In 2010, he gave the medal to former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Maya Angelou, and Warren Buffet, all of whom played important roles in Obama’s elections. He also gave it that year to Jean Kennedy Smith, whose brother, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, handed Obama a huge boost by endorsing him in the 2008 primaries over Hillary Clinton.