Fact Check

Did Bill Clinton Once Say This About Making Mistakes and Learning from Them?

He reportedly also said, "It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit."

Published Jan 5, 2024

Democratic Party presidential nominee Bill Clinton waving to crowd on floor of Democratic Natl. Convention, wife Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea by his side, in 1992. (Photo by Steve Liss/Getty Images) (Steve Liss/Getty Images)
Image Via Steve Liss/Getty Images
Claim:
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton reportedly once said, "If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes," and, "If you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit."
Context

It was unknown if Clinton said anything between the phrases "you'll make mistakes" and "if you learn from them," or whether the quote was one continuous thought. Credible newspapers printed the quote, placing attribution (which can serve the same purpose as ellipses) between the phrases.

An inspirational quote sometimes attributed to former U.S. President Bill Clinton by various quote-collecting websites and in Facebook posts on Facebook and X reads, "If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit."

This was a genuine quote by the former president, according to newspaper archives. He was quoted saying it while campaigning for president in 1992. At the time, he was serving as the governor of Arkansas.

However, that truth deserved a small caveat: While the purported quote by Clinton on social media was one continuous statement, it was unknown if that was really the case. Our source for confirming Clinton's attribution — newspapers including The New York Times — placed attribution ("he said") between the phrases, "you'll make mistakes" and "if you learn from them." Attribution can serve the same purpose as ellipses.

Based on our research, no video or audio recordings of Clinton saying the quote existed. We asked the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum for a transcript of the campaign speech in which the quote reportedly appeared. We will update this story if we receive more information.

While we have yet to locate a transcript or recording of the quote, we did find it in a story by The New York Times, published on June 29, 1992: That story read:

In several recent campaign appearances, he has openly philosophized that political life can be unfair and denuding, and that running for public office is a trade-off in which enduring low blows and pitiless scrutiny must be endured in order to have an opportunity to lead and change.

"If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes," he said in one speech. "But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit."

The quote also appeared in the July 12, 1992, edition of Long Island's Newsday. That newspaper's archives have been digitized and are available via Newspapers.com:

But some of Clinton's evasive answers have contributed to the game of "gotcha." One example came in his response to questions about drug use. For years, whenever asked about drug use, Clinton responded he had "broken no state or federal laws." Finally, during the New York primary campaign, a reporter phrased the question differently, asking whether Clinton had used drugs while he was studying in England and thus not subject to state or federal laws. Clinton admitted he had experimented with marijuana cigarettes at Oxford, then added: "But I didn't inhale." That comment, which he later said was merely "a nervous afterthought," soon spread nationwide as a subject of comic derision.

As he wrapped up the Democratic nomination, the character questions seemed to be fading, although the Clinton camp expects Republicans to try to regenerate them in the fall campaign and an ad hoc group that brought out the infamous "Willie Horton" ads in 1988 has already unveiled one on [Gennifer] Flowers' allegations. Meanwhile, as Clinton prepared to claim his party's top prize in New York this week, he seemed to be trying out a philosophical approach while underscoring his determination to wage a vigorous campaign.

"If you live long enough, you'll make mistakes," he said in a recent speech. "But if you learn from them, you'll be a better person. It's how you handle adversity, not how it affects you."

"The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit."

Sources

Ayres Jr., B. Drummond. “THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: Reporter’s Notebook; Clinton Enjoying Mystery Over Choice for Ticket.” The New York Times, 29 June 1992, p. A11, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/29/us/1992-campaign-reporter-s-notebook-clinton-enjoying-mystery-over-choice-for.html.

Baker, Peter. “Bush Made Willie Horton an Issue in 1988, and the Racial Scars Are Still Fresh.” The New York Times, 4 Dec. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/us/politics/bush-willie-horton.html.

Clifford, Timothy, and Gaylord Shaw. “Clinton: Peacemaker, Until War.” Newsday via Newspapers.Com, Sunday, 12 July 1992, pp. 7, 72, 73, 74, https://www.newspapers.com/image/724835488/.

Sabato, Larry J. “Special Report: Clinton Accused, Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers - 1992.” The Washington Post, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/frenzy/clinton.htm.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.

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