Just a day before the United States launched its attack on Afghanistan, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 threw his support behind President George W. Bush ’68 in a speech capping Yale’s yearlong tercentennial celebration.
“They’ve been making good decisions, and we have no reason to doubt them,” Clinton said of the Bush administration.
Clinton addressed an adoring crowd of 8,000 on Cross Campus Saturday, urging the United States to move forward with globalization efforts while protecting national security. The former president spoke calmly about the new century, describing both its promises and threats. And he talked about the threat on most people’s minds right now — terrorism.
“I believe we’re engaged in the first great struggle for the soul of the 21st century,” Clinton said of Sept. 11’s events. “[But] it’s going to be all right … We can do it if we remember who we are and what we believe.”
Clinton said terrorism was as old as organized combat and is intended to make Americans afraid of each other and of the future.
The former president enumerated the benefits of globalization — economic uplifting, technological advancement, scientific discovery, and the spread of diversity and democracy — while acknowledging the drawbacks of an increasingly interdependent international community. He said environmental concerns, health, and education are just some of the problems that present themselves as the world draws closer together.
“Whether positive or negative, [these issues] show an astonishing increase in global interdependence,” Clinton said. “Terrorism is simply the dark side.”
Clinton said that the United States must lead an assault on the negative effects of global interdependence, reduce poverty worldwide, provide debt relief to economically struggling nations, and be ever-cognizant of how humans affect the environment.
“America is full of hard questions,” Clinton said. “Yale asks hard questions and finds honest answers.”
Yale students and faculty alike were impressed by Clinton’s words.
“He’s not an isolationist,” John Babtie ’04 said. “I think his point of view is the only way to go. It’s amazing — he knows how to communicate more than anyone else.”
Known for his candor and charm, Clinton also took time to tell personal stories.
He shared his experience of in lower Manhattan when he met an Oklahoma man who, inspired by Clinton’s visit to Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing, drove all the way from Oklahoma to comfort people in New York City.
He also said he was impressed by the wisdom of one New York City child who asked, “Why do they hate us so much, anyway?”
On a lighter note, Clinton reminisced about his days as a Yale law student, expressing gratitude for having experienced “one percent of Yale’s 300 years.”
Clinton mentioned his serendipitous library encounter with Hillary Clinton LAW ’73: “The best thing that ever happened to me — and the only thing that stuck.”
Clinton arrived by plane on Saturday afternoon and had lunch with Yale President Richard Levin and the Yale Corporation before his speech. Even though the former president’s remarks on terrorism happened to come just a day before the United States began bombing Afghanistan, Levin said Clinton did not seem to know the proximity of the United State’s response.
“There’s no reason to think he was on the inside,” Levin said. “He revealed nothing.”