Clinton returns for 35th

The United States has gotten off track in recent years by making decisions without the kind of respect for reason that Bill Clinton LAW ’73 learned at Yale Law School, the former president said in a speech in Woolsey Hall Saturday.

At his 35th reunion, the former president — speaking to 2,000 Law School alumni, faculty and students and a few other University dignitaries who greeted him with three standing ovations — said he was “profoundly grateful to Yale Law School” because of the friends he made there, the wife he met there and the political career he launched there.

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Aileen Agricola
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Clinton, who said he “fell in love with the place,” said the most important thing he learned at Yale Law School was to know all the facts before forming an opinion. Studying law, he said, taught him an appreciation for fairness, facts and argument.

“We have been making a lot of mistakes as a country over the last three decades because we have thought that the facts don’t matter,” he said.

Clinton cut his teeth in New Haven’s “cauldron of ethnic politics,” Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said in his introduction. And while in law school, Koh said, Clinton’s attendance was famously dismal, as he spent most of his time in campaigns.

Koh, who served as an assistant secretary of state in Clinton’s administration, praised Clinton for presiding over “an era of peace and prosperity for which we all feel nostalgic today.”

Turning, inevitably, to the current financial crisis, Clinton said the stark inequalities in the current economic model are not sustainable, and the next president should reduce inequality, repair the financial sector and restore America’s standing in the world.

In a brief interview after his speech, when asked how the economy can return to the prosperity of his presidency, Clinton told the News, “Well, you can start by electing Barack Obama, and we can go from there.”

During his speech, Clinton praised Sen. Obama’s instincts as well as the diplomatic experience of his running mate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden. But Clinton resisted demonizing their opponents.

“It’s crazy that we feel we have to hate people we don’t want to vote for,” he said to applause. “It’s a poisonous thing and it stops you from thinking.”

Clinton’s wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, was not with him Saturday because she was campaigning for Obama in Los Angeles, which she thought was more important, Clinton said to applause.

The couple last came to Yale together for their 20th reunion in 1993, just after taking the White House. At that time, Bill Clinton received the Yale Law School alumni association’s Award of Merit.

Bill Clinton also spoke at Yale’s tercentennial in 2001 and attended his 30th reunion five years ago.


  • pete

    Sure, he was a very good president, but the reception of him at YLS was absurdly over-the-top gushing. I greatly respect many things about him and many things he's done - but he does not deserve the three standing ovations that the students gave him and the butt-kissing one-sided praise from the dean. He's done some rotten things too. And lots of mediocre things.

  • duh

    What do you expect?

    Koh wants the Supreme Court- Obama could give it to him.

    What a disaster for our country those two would be!


  • y ''62

    I think that y09 and y11 have hit the nail on the head. Let the best candidate prevail. Forget this obsession with diversity for diversity's sake. Perhaps we will have a minority female as dean; however let it be because of real quals and not because the person is a minority female.

  • Christopher Bieda '83

    Fascinating. How many other disbarred attorneys have been invited to address a law school's reunion class?

    I wonder if Jack Kervorkian ever got a chance to speak at Michigan's medical school after he lost HIS license to practice?

  • Alum

    He was one of the most competent presidents in U.S. history. There is currently some nostalgia for that kind of thing.

  • Christopher Bieda '83

    I am not aware that Dr. K. was anything other than competent; none of his Thanatron or Mercitron customers have ever demanded their money back.

    It would disturb me far less if Wild Bill addressed a Divinity School reunion since he is an exemplar of why divinity schools, seminaries, etc., are needed. On the other hand, the merits of his presidency (which are, history records, painfully thin) do nothing to erase the stain he put on (I know what you're thinking I'm going to say) the legal profession. He disgraced himself as an attorney, and for that he ought to be persona non grata at the Law School, even as he appointed himself well as a bona fide superstar in Democratic Party politics in New Haven and beyond.

    Also, using the quality of competence to excuse immoral (and illegal) behavior leads to some sticky historical wickets, hence the expression about "trains running on time." The President who brought us Food Stamps, the EPA and ended the Vietnam War (which peaked in ferocity and American involvement during LBJ's administration) was nevertheless, a disgrace to the legal profession as well, a position shared by Mrs. Clinton when she worked for Peter Rodino's Judiciary Committee. She did not believe then that competence (which is value-neutral and refers only to the ability to manipulate the levers of power effectively) excuses moral failings and legal transgressions. In this, she was right. For reasons unclear to me, she appeared to moderate her belief during the 1990's. Perhaps a refresher course in ethics in Sterling Hall would've helped maintain her clarity of vision, one of those "alumni weekend" sort of things.

    Is it too much to ask of Yale graduates of all stripes that they be both ethical AND competent before being feted by their peers?



  • J. K.

    Boy, what a bunch of acid-tongued students most of these commentators are. You'd think a place like Yale would draw and foster more open-minded and liberal thinking. Bill Clinton is a human being just like any of us. Not one of us is any better than anyone else when it comes to failings or 'sin'. But, one of the biggest sins or failings is not to look at the intelligence and competence of a person and leader like Bill Clinton and learn lessons from that intelligence and competency. He was a good President. As a liberal, I didn't always agree with everything he did but no one can say he wasn't a great leader. And look at the ecomonmy under him and Gore and look at it now under the Jokership of George W. Bush who has got no more intelligence than a box of rocks. If you choose Bush and most Republicans, you are in the same category as the box of rocks. As for me, I'll choose Clinton's intelligence and economy anytime over the great disaster of a government we have now. It really was and is "It's the Econmy, Stupid!" Many people failed to listen to that wisdom and look at where we are now!
    People who dis Clinton are just jealous and I hope not one of them ever gets to be a lawyer, judge or a person of any influence or power over important matters.

  • @ JK

    No, because we are intelligent Yale students we realize that the USA should be able to do much better than Clinton and GW Bush. BOTH are failures in my eyes.

  • Emz

    Bill was here?

  • Christopher Bieda '83

    This is most disturbing. The logical (and historical) fallacies abound.

    For example, the suggestion that Clinton's failings as an attorney (if he had resigned from the bar before giving false sworn testimony, I would forgive the invitation to address his reunion class: He would then be a man simply possessed of a principle that protecting one's family from embarrassment excuses the giving of false testimony, a principle I can imagine, but not endorse, a family man embracing, but never an attorney), were attenuated or excused by the incompetence of his immediate successor. Excepting the all-too-brief Ford (Yale Law '41) Administration, I find it hard to believe that the fecklessness of Carter made the undisputed competence of Nixon seem like the "good old days." Even William Jefferson Clinton, who was reported to have sought the counsel of Nixon on matters international, never went to bat for the elder statesman to speak to the Duke University Law School as a distinguished alumnus.

    Likewise, if the incompetence of G.W. Bush could justifiably attenuate or excuse Clinton's failings as an attorney, would the election of Al Gore (who would, I suppose, presumptively be less incompetent than G.W.) have made them indelible?

    Ironically, I was amused to learn that Dick Nixon appears to have been admitted to both Yale and Harvard, though I have not checked the citations Wikipedia provides.

    Anyway, back to Bill.

    One should recall the circumstances of his perjury: A woman alleged Bill, that known paragon of sexual virtue, had sexually harrassed her, hardly a nice thing for a supposed champion of women's rights to do. Upon examination to determine whether he had a habit of doing that sort of thing (lawyers call this "evidence," by the way) Bill "lied about sex," which many at the time defended as "expected" and "natural" for a father and husband to do, never noting the irony that any prosecution of an offense, civil or criminal, involving sexual behavior would necessarily involve testimony "about sex," thus excusing perjury (if you'll forgive the expression) left and right in all such cases, as well as the disturbing result of allowing the natural proclivities of a husband and father to trump the sworn duties of an attorney and President to take care that the laws be faithfully (my, how that word grates now) executed.

    Whether any of us is any better than any other of us in matters of sinfulness, I leave to God, but I suspect that the essence of Dante's vision will upon our discovery in the afterlife, turn out to be correct: Some sinners ARE worse than others, as some sins are greater than others, as some sins are committed more frequently and the like.

    Those who pillory G.W. also have an exquisite moral dilemma of their own: A lack of intelligence is an accident of birth, like sex or sexual orientation, and the tenor of the times is to militantly deny the significance of these traits. For example, we let unintelligent people vote. An attorney, on the other hand, voluntarily assumes, via an oath, an obligation to obey the law that is different from the duty of a nonattorney. In this, the self-assumed obligation takes on the character of a choice, like bigotry or conservatism, traits the tenor of the times demands we conform to the highest aspirations of our republic, without equivocation. It was Bill's choice to lie; Bush can't help if he's stupid. Which labors under a handicap? Which deserves true sympathy?

    (I admit some distress that the New York Times surmised that G.W. had better Yale grades than J.F. Kerry. I never wanted to feel sorry for Kerry, but my own reasoning compels it.)