In presenting Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas Award to President Clinton, Barbra Streisand made the following comments addressing the spirit of the award which is presented annually to the person “who best exemplifies the very highest ideals of human rights and equal justice for all.” Public Counsel has for forty years provided free legal assistance to those who need it most. The award was presented March 18 in Beverly Hills at a dinner which raised over $2.6 million for the organization’s pro bono efforts.
I’m here tonight because Public Counsel is celebrating 40 years of excellent work providing pro bono legal services to those who are most vulnerable. And I definitely couldn’t refuse an opportunity to speak about one of the most remarkable leaders of our generation, a great humanitarian—President Bill Clinton.
He entered the presidency in one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history. The country was in a recession, the end of the Cold War had brought new threats to our national security, and our welfare system was in shambles.
As President, he expanded prosperity until it reached every corner of our country. He came in and balanced the budget, paid down the national debt, reformed welfare, raised the minimum wage, made college more affordable, invested in health care for children, created 22 million new jobs, left his successor with an unprecedented surplus, preserved our national forests, lowered wasteful government spending and cleaned up the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
Abroad, he brokered the Good Friday Peace Accord in Ireland and the Dayton Accord in Bosnia, ended ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, helped bring democracy to Haiti, and advanced peace initiatives in the Middle East.
While in the White House, President Clinton not only created opportunity for all Americans, but also encouraged all citizens to take responsibility to do their part. He relentlessly pursued policies based on these values, which resulted in concrete social progress and created a stronger America poised to take on the challenges of the 21st century.
It’s no wonder that President Clinton left the White House with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.
He wins the hearts of political foes with his charm and razor-sharp intellect. He can reduce a crowded room to just you and him with his warmth and charisma. And he is able to inspire others to dream his big dreams about what is possible for our country and the world.
There are some politicians who are visionaries and see the big picture and others who focus only on the details of implementing policy. Bill Clinton has the very rare ability to do both. These qualities, along with his insatiable intellectual curiosity and phenomenal memory, are among his greatest political assets.
More than ten years after leaving the Oval Office, no one on either side of the aisle denies that Bill Clinton continues to shape the world we live in. His leadership stresses unity over division, policy over party, and hope over fear. He raised the bar for what it means to be a public servant and set new benchmarks for what a private citizen can accomplish to make the world a better place. He also has more energy and travels more miles than anyone I know—aside from maybe his brilliant wife.
His Clinton Foundation is the fastest growing NGO in the world. He has worked tirelessly to provide HIV/AIDS medication to the people of Africa, help victims in Indonesia rebuild after the tsunami and Haitians begin the process of reconstruction after the devastating earthquake decimated their country’s infrastructure. When the media spotlight waned, Bill Clinton was still standing with these people, reminding them that they will not be forgotten.
I am so proud to have partnered with him on his mission to use cutting-edge technology and collective buying collaboratives to help ameliorate global climate change. Only his brilliant diplomatic skills could have succeeded in bringing me and Rupert Murdoch together to help launch the Clinton Climate Change Initiative.
He does all this, and still has time to travel to North Korea to help secure the release of American journalists Euna Lee & Laura Ling, who are here tonight.
The pictures of these two young women reuniting with their families after being held in a North Korean jail for months reminded the country (and the world) of the power of Clinton diplomacy.
My continued friendship with him and his family, remain profoundly meaningful to me. In 1993, I sang at his inauguration. It was one of the greatest highlights of my career and it was also the night I met his late mother, Virginia, who became a loving surrogate mother to me. From the moment we met we had an immediate connection. We talked almost every week on the phone until she passed away, and to this day, she remains one of the most positive and encouraging influences in my life.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The son she produced is like her in many ways. Warm and compassionate, his laughter can lift the spirit of those around him. And like her, he is down to earth, great fun…and a hell of a card player.
I am inspired by the example that he sets for all of us, exhilarated by his ability to see what’s possible if we all rise to our greater selves, and encouraged by his dedication to help those most in need. Simply put…the world is a better place because President Bill Clinton is in it.
Ladies & gentlemen, please welcome this year’s recipient of the William O. Douglas Award, the 42nd President of the United States and my friend, President William Jefferson Clinton.