2011 Liberty Medal - Constitution Center – Dr. Robert Gates

The Liberty Medal 2011 was awarded to Dr. Robert Gates, on Thursday, September 22, 2011, in a star-studded ceremony at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

We have an entire photo album, with 41 photos from the event on our Facebook page – check it out!

2011 Liberty Medal - Dr. Robert Gates - September 22, 2011

First and Foremost, the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal Event Was Driven Indoors

Prior to the event, the most significant difficulty for the National Constitution Center planners was the weather. Forecasts were indicating wet and stormy weather for Thursday afternoon and evening. Accordingly, early Thursday morning, it was announced formally that the Liberty Medal 2011 event – for the first time in its 23-year history – would take place indoors. (It has been awarded since 1988, 15 years before the National Constitution Center itself, which didn’t open its doors until July 4, 2003.)

This was a shame, because this meant that many National Constitution Center members, and the general public, would no longer be able to attend the Liberty Medal 2011 ceremony, an annual highlight of late September in Philadelphia. With the event shifted from the lawn to the atrium, far fewer people could be seated. And so the audience was largely confined to those guests attending the gala upstairs, which would take place afterwards. (Worth noting: the philanthropist and retired NBA basketball star - and former 76er - Dikembe Mutombo attended. Of course, he politely sat in the last row, so that his enormous height would not obscure the view of other guests. Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy also attended.)

Within the National Constitution Center, the production values were first-rate. Based on its appearance, I would never have imagined that the National Constitution Center had never previously staged the Liberty Medal indoors. Video tributes took place on stage right, and were crystal clear. The dignitaries were seated on two rows at center stage, with a gorgeous, golden Liberty Bell motif, behind them. Next to them, were the U.S. flag and the light-blue-and-yellow flag of Philadelphia. On stage left, where the podium was located, a tall rendition of the U.S. Constitution, with its signature Gothic font of “We the People” on the top line, provided a stellar background for the speakers.

Above the lobby, the flags of all U.S. states and territories were gently bathed in pools of red and blue light. These patriotic mists also illuminated the staircase, leading from the atrium up to the second floor. Both the second floor and the staircase were literally star-spangled, as well. The phrase “Liberty Medal” – in 18th century type - appeared on the walls.

The entire effect was like being in a patriotic shrine, dedicated to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

The media was seated directly behind the audience, and so we saw it from the same perspective – except that we could also see the various mechanical cranes, Fresnel lights, and other technological tools needed to make the magic for the cameras, how what it was. And the production staff, lighting and stage crew did a tremendous job. It was an entire evening of entertainment for the guests. The program’s chronology:

Prior to the live broadcast (and thus unseen by anyone outside the National Constitution Center) the Aggie Wranglers, the country western dance team of Texas A&M University – turned in a tremendously entertaining live performance, which delighted the crowd. Replete with elaborate flips and cartwheels, and a drawling host, it was as if a small bit of Texas had dropped into the National Constitution Center. (Their presence was due to the fact that Gates had served as President of Texas A&M from 2002-2006.)

The Singing Sergeants of the United States Air Force followed, with a virtuoso performance. Standing on the staircase, their voices resounded throughout the building.

Dr. Gates was awarded the medal, due to his long service – over five decades - as a federal official, most recently as Defense Secretary. His achievements include:

- serving under eight Presidents;

- being the first Defense Secretary to serve under Presidents of both parties;

- increasing the security and safety of U.S. troops, in both Iraq and Afghanistan

- reducing the time required to transport a wounded soldier in Afghanistan to a hospital,

- the procurement of better-armored vehicles and improved technology, thus saving lives;

- becoming known as the “Soldiers’ Secretary”, due to his strenuous efforts to improve the well-being of U.S. troops;

- diversion of budget dollars from unnecessary weapons systems to higher military priorities.

These were, according to the National Constitution Center’s blog, among the many reasons for bestowing the Liberty Medal.

Dr. Gates’ speech was eloquent, in which he exhorted both parties to put aside their differences, and spend less time trying to seek partisan advantage. The nation’s security needs are above partisan politics – and Gates, having served Presidents of both parties, has consistently demonstrated this fact.

Here are some of the most significant quotes from his brief remarks: It is a true honor to join the ranks of the men and women who have received this Liberty Medal. The official citation for the medal talks about honoring those who strive to “secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.”

Yet, in this of all places — where the American creed and system of government was born — and during this of all times — when our nation’s capital appears choked by deadlock and dysfunction — I want to share some thoughts on the state of government and politics here at home, how the institutions set up to “secure the blessings of liberty” for the American people are measuring up at such a challenging time for our country.

…let us not forget that America’s Founding Fathers designed our system of government primarily to protect liberty—not to promote speed and efficiency. So it is with good reason that Will Rogers used to say, “I don’t tell jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

Having said all that, I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system—and it is no longer a joking matter. It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country.

Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance. Several developments have put us in this predicament, three of which I would like to highlight in the next couple of minutes.

The Three Factors

Lopsided, Uncompetitive Congressional Elections

“First, as a result of a highly partisan redistricting process, more and more seats in the House of Representatives are safe for either the Republican or Democratic Party… how do we ensure that more candidates for Congress are forced to appeal to independents, centrists, and at least some members of the other political party to win election, just as presidential candidates must do?”

Serious Problems Require Solutions Over Multiple Presidencies and Congresses, Of Both Parties

“Second, addressing this country’s most intractable and complex problems requires a consistent strategy and implementation across multiple presidencies and congresses. The best historical example of this was the Cold War. Despite great differences in tactics and approaches, the basic contours of the strategy to contain the Soviet Union remained constant through nine presidential administrations of both political parties…”

A Radical Transformation of the Media, Over the Past 20 Years

Third, there are vast changes in the composition and role of the news media over the past two decades. When I entered CIA 45 years ago last month, three television networks and a handful of newspapers dominated coverage and, to a considerable degree, filtered extreme or vitriolic points of view. Today, with hundreds of cable channels, blogs and other electronic media, every point of view, including the most extreme, has a ready vehicle for wide dissemination.”

The Need For Compromise, Both in 1787 and Today

“As a result of these and other polarizing factors, the moderate center— the foundation of our political system and our stability— is not holding. Just at a time when this country needs more continuity, more bipartisanship, and more compromise to deal with our most serious problems, all the trends are pointing in the opposite direction.

Indeed, “compromise” has become a dirty word— too often synonymous with a lack of principles or “selling out.”

“The Constitution Itself is a Bundle of Compromises.”

Yet, our entire system of government has depended upon compromise. The Constitution itself is a bundle of compromises. Critical ideas and progress in our history often have come from thinkers and ideologues on both the left and the right. But, for the most part, the laws and policies that ultimately implement the best of those ideas have come from the vital political center, and usually as the result of compromise.

I have worked for eight presidents, and I have known many politicians of both parties over nearly five decades, and I never met one who had a monopoly on revealed truth…

Today’s political leaders and those who aspire to lead would do well to follow their example [of the Founding Fathers]… Their willingness to do so will determine this country’s future prospects as a great power and as a republic, because the warning given a long time ago by Benjamin Franklin — that great Pennsylvanian — still applies:

“Either we hang together or we will surely all hang separately.”

Thank you again for this great honor, and God bless our republic and the compromises on which it was founded.”

Well said, Mr. Secretary.


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