W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 9, 2000 -- An emotional President Clinton praised the“keen intellect and loving heart” of sometime political rivalthe Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the leadership of the iconoclastic generalwho disagreed with his strategy during the Kosovo air war, as hebestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 15 people today.
Clinton’s voice grew thin as he listed the accomplishments ofAmericans as diverse as Jackson, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark,economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan,D-N.Y., former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman retired Adm. WilliamCrowe and former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.
“From the founding of our nation it has been the duty of eachgeneration to achieve freedom all over again, to expand it, todeepen its meaning, to widen the circle of those who are includedas full citizens,” Clinton said at a packed ceremony in the EastRoom of the White House.
“Today we honor 15 men and women who have done exactly that,”Clinton said. “They have helped America to achieve freedom.”
Jackson is considered both a Clinton ally and a fly in thepresidential ointment. The civil rights leader is a frequent sightat the White House, even though he flirted briefly with the idea ofchallenging Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Jackson prayed with the Clinton family after the presidentdisclosed his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, but defiedClinton advisers last year by going to Yugoslavia to retrieve threeAmerican soldiers held as prisoners.
Friendly Oratory RivalsAn orator at least as gifted as Clinton, Jackson sometimesoutshines the president. Clinton jokingly acknowledged therhetorical rivalry today.
“You are now about to witness one of the best things about thisceremony,” Clinton said. “For a chance, I don’t have to followJesse Jackson.”
After the ceremony, Jackson praised the Clinton administrationfor promoting “the most inclusive America,” but did not paperover his differences with the White House.
“Those of us who would dare be change agents, who lead bymolding opinion and not following opinion polls, always rub theedges of our society,” Jackson said.
NATO Commander HonoredClark commanded NATO during the 78-day air war against Yugoslavforces last year that forced the retreat from Kosovo. During thewar Clark made little secret of his belief that the alliance mustactively consider a ground invasion, and he chafed at the graduatedair campaign prosecuted by the Clinton administration.
Clark was replaced early, but professed no bitterness. Clintonsaid last year that the selection of another general for the jobhad nothing to do with Clark’s conduct during the war.
Today, Clinton noted many experts thought the Kosovooperation was “mission impossible.”
“Instead, thanks to Gen. Clark, we now can declare it missionaccomplished,” Clinton said.
Pioneers and Freedom Fighters LaudedAmong those honored was longtime Detroit resident Mildred“Millie” Jeffrey, who was the director of the first United AutoWorkers women’s department. She also walked in several civil rightsmarches with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Former UAW President Doug Fraser met Jeffrey when they both wereworking for then-UAW President Walter Reuther in the 1950s.
“Millie’s always been at the forefront on any social issue withdimensions: civil rights, women’s rights, environmental issues. …Millie was a pioneer. She’s a woman of considerable ability. She’salways been in the fight for equality and social justice,” Frasersaid Monday.
The honorees, including a pioneering AIDS researcher, acrusading Hispanic legal activist and others known mostly for workamong the poor or disadvantaged, “have helped us to secure theblessing of liberty, by acts of bravery, conscience andcreativity,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s Last Group AwardThe medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, was establishedby President Truman as a wartime honor. President Kennedyreintroduced it as way to honor civilian service.
Only the president may award the medal. White House spokesmanJoe Lockhart said today’s awards are the last Clinton will doas a group, although he may award others individually if hechooses. Typically, the ceremony is annual.
The medal may be awarded to citizens of other nations and may beawarded posthumously, as was this year’s medal for Rhode IslandRepublican Sen. John Chafee, who died last year.