THIS AFTERNOON, a ceremony will be held for the 2003 Medal of Freedom recipients in the East Room of the White House. President Bush's list is uniformly excellent, and incredibly revealing when compared with some of Bill Clinton's picks for the nation's highest civilian honor.

Clinton's choices, of course, included several remarkable and deserving man and women. But he placed them on equal footing with other, lesser lights, including Jesse Jackson (2000), Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter (1999), George McGovern (2000), and Marian Wright Edelman (2000), who is currently suing the Bush administration over the No Child Left Behind program.

Clinton's most controversial pick was J. William Fulbright (1993); his most entertaining was Albert Shanker (1998). Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, may be most famous for his cameo in Woody Allen's comedy "Sleeper": Allen's character, frozen in 1973, wakes up after 100 years and learns that civilization was destroyed when "a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead."

A glance over a full list of Clinton's choices hints at the political machinations at work beneath the surface.

Bush's choices and the reasons he gives for them in the White House press release below speak for themselves:

Roberto Walker Clemente's Hall of Fame baseball career took him from Puerto Rico to the Pittsburgh Pirates. His lifetime batting average was .317 with 240 home runs and 1,305 RBI's. He was also committed to helping the less fortunate. His career was cut tragically short by an accident as he was delivering emergency relief to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Van Cliburn, at the age of 23, won the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition held in 1958 in Moscow, just months after the Sputnik launch. Throughout his long career as a concert pianist, he has entertained audiences around the world with his talents and continues to inspire young artists to achieve excellence.

Václav Havel's acclaimed plays about the oppressive Communist rule of his native Czechoslovakia caused him to be imprisoned numerous times. He persevered as a strong voice for freedom in his homeland and a voice for democracy throughout the world. Havel later became president of the new Czech Republic, leading the newly democratic nation until earlier this year.

Charlton Heston is an Academy Award winning actor and an eloquent, early voice on behalf of civil rights in the United States and democracy around the world. His films include "The Greatest Show on Earth," "El Cid," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "Ben Hur," "The Ten Commandments," and "Planet of the Apes."

Edward Teller left his native Hungary to escape the rise of Nazi Germany. After arriving in America, he established himself as a premier physicist. His work on national defense projects such as the Manhattan Project and the Strategic Defense Initiative helped protect our nation and bring about the end of the Cold War.

R. David Thomas's hard work, business sense, and perseverance led him to create one of the world's largest restaurant chains. In memory of his grandmother's advice to "never cut corners," his restaurants, named after one of his daughters, became known for their square hamburger patties. A philanthropist, and having been adopted himself, Dave was a life-long advocate for adoption.

Byron Raymond White led an extraordinary American life. He was named an All-American athlete and Rhodes Scholar, earned a Bronze Star in World War II, played in the NFL and led the league in rushing, worked to defend civil rights as Deputy Attorney General, and served for 31 years as a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.

James Q. Wilson has written influential works on the nature of human morality, government, and criminal justice issues. A noted social commentator and professor at both Harvard and UCLA, his books include "Varieties of Police Behavior: The Management of Law and Order in Eight Communities," "The Moral Sense," and "The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families."

John R. Wooden is a record-setting college basketball coach and exceptional teacher whose UCLA Bruins won 10 National Championships in 12 years. His teams reflected his discipline, character, and work ethic. " Pyramid of Success" has inspired generations.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

Correction Appended, 7/23/03: The article originally identified Roberto Walker Clemente as Roberto Clemente Walker and misstated his lifetime batting average as .371. He batted .317 lifetime. The attribution to the White House press release was omitted in the original.

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