The Liberty Medal Ncc Logo

WILLIAM J. CLINTON

Acceptance Speech

 

William J. Clinton
42nd President of the United States
October 5, 2006
National Constitution Center
Philadelphia, PA


Mr. Torsella, Mr. Mayor, Governor, Senators, I thank you all.  Thank you Charlie Gibson for being here; you too, have a hard job.

 

No president thinks he gets good enough press, I can tell you that.

 

I’d like to thank Kariel and Teuku for being here to remind us what our labors were all about.

 

I thank you very much for this award.

 

I had the great honor to come here in 1993, to be part of the presentation of this award, to two friends of mine: Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk, two people who reached across a far greater divide than ever separated President Bush and me.  A decade ago you gave it to Shimon Peres and to the late King Hussein, two other friends of mine.  You might have given it to Yitzak Rabin had he not been killed—three men who reached across a far greater divide.

 

But there was one other tandem who got this award that I want to mention tonight, because of their unique contribution to understanding what President Bush has just said and to the meaning of this film.  Watson and Crick who discovered the double-helix, the structure of the human gene, which led to a decade search to understand the structure of the human being itself through the gene.

 

I had the great good fortune to be president in 2000 when we reached the combination of the ability to decode the human genome—the very building block of life, something that was a big multi-national effort, one that was strongly supported by my predecessor President Bush.

 

But they found an astonishing thing.  That human beings, all of us, all across the world, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, Africans, Asians, you name it, we’re all 99.9% the same genetically.  Go figure.

 

So we all think about how smart the Founding Fathers were.  By reason alone, they came here and said that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honors.  To what?  Form a more perfect union.

 

They knew we weren’t perfect.  They knew we would never be perfect, but they knew we could always be more perfect.  I completely agree with what George said about partisanship.  I want to thank the president for giving us a chance to work together.  I never asked him, he never asked me, to discard our convictions where we honestly disagree.  If you do it in the right way, you’re always yearning and working for that more perfect union.

 

Why were we able to do this in the aftermath of the tsunami and Katrina?  That’s what I want you to think about.  Because when people are broken and they have lost everything, then all the things we spent most our time and our lives on—our differences—that one tenth of one percent, all of us do—all of a sudden they evaporate.

 

I was walking through a camp in Indonesia with an elected head of the camp and his wife.  I said to the interpreter, I believe that’s the most beautiful son I ever saw in my life.  And she said, “Yes, before the tsunami hit he had nine brothers and sisters and now they are all gone.”

 

We could tell you Katrina stories that would break your heart.  The point is: all of our differences just fade away.

 

I accept this award with gratitude, with a man I have genuinely always liked and always admired.  May all the Democrats forgive me this close the election: I love George Bush.  I do.

 

And I think that we figured out how we’re supposed to do this.  I developed a good relationship with the current president.  I told him: I will never ask you to change what you believe, you say what you believe.  I’ll say what I believe.  And I’ll say it with respect, whatever you want me to do to help our country in good conscience, I’ll do it.

 

How can you live with the importance of the 1/10 of 1%, and not forget the 99.9%?

 

That’s what the Founders knew.  That’s what we all know when there’s a tsunami.  That’s what we all know when there’s a Katrina.  When that young man came up here—all the way from Aceh in Indonesia—and that young woman came up here, from all the things she has been through.  This wonderful poet who suffered, came up here and read the poem—all of you thought about what you have in common with them, didn’t you?

 

I accept this award with great humility and gratitude that I was given a chance after a long and eventful career to be reminded that the Founders knew that what we have in common is more important than our—than our interesting and significant differences.

 

We strive for a more perfect union not by obliterating our differences, but just by remembering that we are 99.9% the same.  And if we could remember it every day, we’d make a lot better use of that 1/10 of 1% and the Founders would be proud.

 

Thank you and God bless you!