The White House announced that Warren Buffett will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, reports Reuters. The announcement, which had likely been planned for weeks, comes on the same day that the New York Times published a glowing op-ed by Buffett, in which the legendary investor referred to himself as Uncle Sam's "grateful nephew" and praised the government's rescue of the financial system.
Buffett, no fan of dynastic wealth, has pledged much of his fortune to charity. He will join Henry Ford II, Alan Greenspan, management legend Peter Drucker, Estee Lauder and Walt Disney among business titans who've received the award.
In his op-ed today, Buffett named Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, ex-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, current Treasury head Tim Geithner and FDIC chief Sheila Bair among those responsible for saving America's economy. And, though he notes he did not vote for him, Buffett also praises George W. Bush. Here's Buffett:
"When the crisis struck, I felt you would understand the role you had to play. But you've never been known for speed, and in a meltdown minutes matter. I worried whether the barrage of shattering surprises would disorient you. You would have to improvise solutions on the run, stretch legal boundaries and avoid slowdowns, like Congressional hearings and studies. You would also need to get turf-conscious departments to work together in mounting your counterattack. The challenge was huge, and many people thought you were not up to it.
Well, Uncle Sam, you delivered."
But Buffett was never a disinterested observer in the bailout. As Rolfe Winkler pointed out last year, Buffett not only traded on the bailout, landing an investment in Goldman Sachs that would earn him about $1.3 million per day, but his firm's portfolio had vast holdings in more than a few companies that received government assistance, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.