It turns out that Barack Obama had managed to insult Poland before he ever talked about a "Polish death camp." The Polish Government had asked that Lech Walesa be allowed to receive the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom being bestowed on Jan Karski. The Obama White House said no, claiming that Walesa was "too political." Most likely, the thin-skinned Obama didn't want to deal with Walesa, who had criticized him in the past.
The refusal of one of the least deserving recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize to meet with one of the most deserving recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize ranks with Gerald Ford's refusal to meet with the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. What Walesa accomplished is so amazing that few of us who were watching ever thought something like it could happen: an unemployed electrician climbed over the fence into Gdansk's Lenin Shipyards and helped organize a strike that caused Poland's Communist regime to capitulate and recognize the Solidarity trade union. It was one of the most electrifying news stories of my lifetime. As it turns out, the rise of Solidarity was one of the pivotal events in bringing about the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe within the decade and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. Walesa's political career since then has seen many disappointments, but even if the Constitution is amended to allow Obama to serve as many terms as FDR did, it is unlikely that he will ever accomplish anything to equal what Walesa did.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.