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NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Clinton Presents Medals to 15 Heroes

Honor: The Rev. Jackson, Simon Wiesenthal, Sen. Moynihan and former Sens. McGovern and Chafee are among those honored for a 'devotion to freedom.'

August 10, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With barely five months remaining in his presidency, President Clinton presented the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday to 15 Americans, honoring among others heroes of the Democratic Party's most liberal factions with whom he often has been at odds.

The honorees included former Sen. George S. McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat whose campaign for the presidency, fueled by sentiment against the Vietnam War, was swamped by Richard Nixon in 1972. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader who has sought the Democratic presidential nomination, also was awarded a medal.

So, too, were Cruz Reynoso, the first Latino member of the California Supreme Court, and Simon Wiesenthal, the 91-year-old Holocaust survivor whose work, the award citation said, has "ensured the arrest of more than 1,000 war criminals."

Wiesenthal, who Clinton said recently had been injured in Vienna, was said to have listened to the ceremony by telephone and was represented by Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The ceremony, likely to be the last formal presentation of the Medal of Freedom in the Clinton White House, gave the president and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton an opportunity to recognize the work of personal heroes, as well as others--some widely known, others less so--who, the president said, have shown a "devotion to freedom" and have added "richness and depth" to American life.

The other honorees:

* Jim Burke, chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson and chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

* The late Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), who had a long career of public service.

* Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign in the Kosovo war.

* Retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ambassador to Britain.

* Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund for whom the first lady once worked. Edelman was sharply critical of the administration's welfare reform program.

* Economist and former ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith.

* Msgr. George G. Higgins, a champion of workers' rights for more than 50 years.

* Mildred Jeffrey, an early leader of the United Auto Workers and a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus.

* Mathilde Krim, who established the AIDS Medical Foundation in 1983 to raise public awareness of the disease.

* Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the only American to have served four successive presidents in high-level positions.

* The Rev. Gardner Calvin Taylor, honored for his sermons and his work as a civil rights pioneer.

The medals were established in 1963 by President Kennedy to recognize the work of Americans who advance freedom in peacetime. He was assassinated before he could present the award to anyone.

Potential nominees are recommended by members of the public and White House staff and final decisions are made by the president. Clinton generally has presented the awards to those who, an aide said, have made contributions to "a civil society."

Jackson, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, "has preached a gospel of hope, unity and responsibility and has helped establish common ground across lines of race, class, gender, nationality and faith," his citation read.

Jackson founded an organization now known as Rainbow/PUSH, and Clinton said: "Push is what Jesse does when he thinks I'm not doing right."

McGovern was cited, among other achievements, for his current work as the U.S. representative to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization and his efforts to enact a plan to feed 500 million of the world's hungry by 2015.

"George McGovern is one of the greatest humanitarians of our time and the world will benefit from his legacy for generations to come," said the citation.

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