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White House Honored Convicted Felon

May 12, 2011

The presence of Grammy-winning rapper Common at a White House poetry event last night brought frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives to brink of broken blood vessels. While Fox News ran special segments on "The Invitation," employee Sarah Palin complained, "It's just so lacking of class and decency and all that's good about America." Of course, the right-wing chattering class was predictably unconcerned about class and decency three years ago when a convicted felon was a special guest of the White House. And President Bush gave Charles Colson a medal.
On December 10, 2008, George W. Bush bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal upon Charles Colson. Colson, a frequent guest at the Bush White House and star of Dubya's faith-based initiatives, was honored for his prison ministry:

For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God's boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society. The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals.

Colson's prison experience was first-hand. After all, the man who once declared that he would "walk over my own grandmother" to get Richard Nixon re-elected was convicted for crimes on his behalf. As David Plotz explained in Slate back in 2000, before Colson found Jesus, he found Richard Nixon:

Colson's sanctification caps one of the most extraordinary redemptions in recent history. Colson doesn't like to talk about his Watergate villainy. He calls himself a "sinner" and demurs, "I was a part of Watergate." He has good reason to be cagey. As special counsel to the president, he was Richard Nixon's hard man, the "evil genius" of an evil administration. According to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, Colson sought to hire Teamsters thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators, and he plotted to raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution. He eventually pleaded guilty to scheming to defame Daniel Ellsberg and interfering with his trial. In 1974, Colson served seven months in federal prison.

As ThinkProgress noted on the day Bush presented Chuck Colson with the second highest honor which can be granted a civilian, "Colson has also remained involved in conservative politics."

Colson brought together politically conservative Catholics and Protestands for a statement of common beliefs, advised conservative politicians including Texas governor George W. Bush, and worked with Christian right leaders Pat Robertson and James Dobson on the development of political strategy. He disseminated conservative messages on sex roles, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, gay rights, and separation of church and state in his radio broadcasts and columns, reaching millions of Americans.
On October 3, 2002, Colson was also one of the co-signers of a letter from prominent evangelical leaders supporting an invasion of Iraq. More recently he has spoken out in favor of California's Prop. 8, accusing the LGBT community of "anti-religious bigotry."

Colson, a man the New York Times described as "the quintessential Watergate-era hatchet man," remained unrepentant if born-again. When FBI director Mark Felt was revealed in 2005 as the Washington Post's "Deep Throat" source, Colson announced he was "personally shocked," adding:

"Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration."

As it turns out, Charles Colson wasn't the only convicted felon past and future who would become a fixture at the Bush White House. Jack Abramoff was one. Dick Cheney's chief-of-staff Scooter Libby was another. Neither of them got a medal. Like Chuck Colson.
While they wipe the spittle from their lips, the Republican amen corner furious about the last night's White House performance by Common might want to remember a lesson from President Bush's anointing of Charles Colson in 2008. While he may have found redemption through Jesus, his sins against the American people are not forgotten.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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