Bill Clinton takes on Obama, media on race comments

April 22, 2008

Bill Clinton is making news again.

Campaigning for his wife Hillary in Pennsylvania, the former president accused the Obama campaign of “playing the race card” and later lashed out at a reporter who asked him about his comments.billclinton

Could this hurt Hillary’s prospects in the must-win Keystone state, which holds its nominating contest today?

Bill Clinton was so popular among African Americans during his time in the White House that he was sometimes known as “the first black president,” but much of that goodwill evaporated after the racially charged South Carolina primary in January.

Many blacks were angered when he compared Barack Obama to Jesse Jackson, seeing it as an attempt to marginalize a black candidate who has drawn white support. Bill said he meant no offense, and later accused the Obama campaign of trying to take advantage of the remarks.

Bill took a lower-profile role in his wife’s campaign for several weeks after his run-ins with reporters who asked him about the remarks received prominent news coverage.

But evidently he still feels he was misrepresented.

When asked on Monday if he had been mistaken to compare Obama to Jackson, the civil rights leader and 1988 presidential candidate, Clinton told Philadelphia’s WHYY radio:

“No, and I think they played the race card on me. … I frankly thought the way the Obama campaign reacted was disrespectful to Jesse Jackson.”

On Tuesday, Obama seemed perplexed by Clinton’s remarks.

“Was there a plan to get him to say that my campaign was like Jesse Jackson’s? I don’t know what he was referring to, unfortunately,” Obama said at a diner in Pittsburgh.

Hillary did not seem so eager to revisit the subject.

“It’s old news. It’s been around for several months now,” she said in a television interview.

Clinton tried to distance himself from the remarks in a testy exchange at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh. Here’s a full transcript, provided by the NBC reporter involved:

NBC reporter Mike Memoli: “Sir what did you mean yesterday when you said that the Obama campaign was playing the race card on you?”

Clinton: “When did I say that, and to whom did I say that?”

Memoli: “On WHYY radio yesterday.”

Clinton: “No, no, no. That’s not what I said. You always follow me around and play these little games, and I’m not going to play your games today. This is a day about election day. Go back and see what the question was, and what my answer was. You have mischaracterized it to get another cheap story to divert the American people from the real urgent issues before us, and I choose not to play your game today. Have a nice day.”

Memoli: “Respectfully sir, though, you did say …”

Clinton: “Have a nice day.” [continues shaking hands with supporters]. “I said what I said, you can go and look at the interview. And if you’ll be real honest, you’ll also report what the question was and what the answer was.”

Memoli: “They asked you if you regretted your comparing Jesse Jackson to Barack Obama on the day after the South Carolina primary.”

Clinton: “And I pointed out that I did not do that, and that I complimented them both. And that Jesse Jackson took no offense. And I called him myself, I said: ‘Did you find that offensive?’ And he said no.”

photo credit: REUTERS/Bradley Bower (Clinton listens to Hillary Clinton address supporters at a Philadelphia rally on April 21)


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Honestly, I do not see the insult. What was it about? Why would Senator Obama take offense to that?

Posted by cb | Report as abusive

Bill Clinton’s remarks were not racist and neither was Geraldine Ferraro’s. I am a black woman and I believe that the Obama camapaign and its supporters have played the race card constantly throughout the primary.

Posted by Cassandra | Report as abusive

Senator Obama is a politician, and thus knows what angles must be worked to achieve an election victory. Although I don’t think the race card is being intentionally overused, it is definitely a factor. However, Senator Clinton has played on her being female to help swing the female vote in several states. I think the real winners are the American people, because at the end of the day, we will more than likely have either our first female, or first black president, and as an American first and a Caucasian second, that is a great victory over sexism and bigotry.

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive


One claims the other is playing the “Race Card” and the other claims the first is using the “Gender” card… First of all, if both were true, isn’t this the pot calling the kettle… OK bad analogy to use.

So, if the vast majority of the voting American public (Of whom I am a card carrying member) was to be completely honest with themselves, I suspect we would all realize that at some level, we are all racially biased to some degree. By the same token I believe we are all apt to discover within ourselves at least some level of gender bias.

Anyone who thinks otherwise need only think back to the last time they held a door for a Lady, or elected not to. Now, consider for your own edification, “Why did I really do that?” I think many of us may be surprised by our reasons.

In a perfect world, an election would be strictly about the issues and the abilities of the candidates. I’m afraid it does not take a great philosopher to realize that this is not a perfect world. I do have my preference when it comes to my opinion of who the best candidate may be however, I think it is necessary for each one of us to soberly and objectively examine each candidate for the qualities we can discern through the smoke screen of the popularity contest and vote for the individual whom we feel is the best equipped to do the job that we desire.

In conjunction with a Presidential vote, however we must also choose wisely who will represent us at the local and national governmental levels as those will be the power behind the person on the throne.

We cannot place a knight in battle and then hamstring the horse they ride upon and truly expect to emerge victorious from the war.

Just my Two Cent’s worth.

Posted by Glenn | Report as abusive

I don’t think the comment was racist, nor do I think Obama’s “bitter” comment was a religious insensitivity. What irritates me is the former president charging the Obama campaign with stirring the pot that he put on the fire, and then, worse, denying it ever happened. Can’t he justbe honest with us for one complete day?

Posted by AJ | Report as abusive

It’s not about his remarks being racist. It’s about the fact that when he was asked about it taking two Clintons to beat Obama, he brought up Jesse Jackson’s victories in SC in the ’84 and ’88 primaries there when the person questioning him had not mentioned Jesse Jackson.

Even if someone who is black is not offended does that negate another black person’s right to be offended? Bill Clinton could have easily told the interviewer on the radio station that this was a dead issue but instead he’s blaming Obama when he’s the one that brought Jesse Jackson up for no sensible reason.

Posted by shanna | Report as abusive

Bill Clinton is the only one playing the race card. I just heard his comments and so I went back and googled the old South Carolina Jesse Jackson controversy – do it. You’ll see that it was not Obama’s campaign that in any way took advantage of this misstep of his. All the coverage of Clinton’s is from the media – not from Obama’s campaign.

He then either forgot what he had said the day before to WHYY or lied about it to ABC.  /2008/01/26/for_bill_clinton_echoes_of_ jac.html 2008/01/bubba-obama-is.html 008/01/27/clinton/

Also, according to the WHYY recorded interview, he said he was having coffee and he just happened to make these comments and they were apparently made at a rally in South Carolina trying to explain how his wife went from being ahead by double digits in that state to losing by an incredible margin.

I am a yellow dog dem that’s had just about enough of the Clintons political spin and outright lies to reconsider my former support for my senator’s seat in new york!

To those who don’t see the offense in Bill’s original comments – I’ll ask you why didn’t he mention that John Edwards had won that state too in his failed bid for the presidency?

Posted by mary | Report as abusive

Absolute update regarding race of races icle/2662

Posted by hlg | Report as abusive

The press is making much of the primary in Pennsylvania. But they are not telling us the whole truth. NPR reported today that over 130,000 Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary. Hmmmm. It has long been known that the Republicans consider Mrs. Clinton more beatable than Barack Obama. The polls show that there is good reason to believe this. Most polls show that Barack Obama can beat John McCain, but Hillary Clinton cannot. So how many of these cross-over saboteurs do you think voted for Mrs. Clinton? All of them!

With 98% of the Pennsylvania vote tallied at the time of this writing, Clinton had amassed 1,220,061 votes to Obama’s 1,006,264. But if we take away the Republican ninja vote, the picture changes dramatically. Clinton is left with 1,090,061 and the gap closes from 55% versus 45% to 52% versus 48%. There is no 10% win for Mrs. Clinton to be found anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania.

Will the press notice this? Probably not. This battle between Democratic titans sells newspapers and they surely do not want it to end. Furthermore, several major media organizations, especially Reuters, has a decided bias in favor of Mrs. Clinton and are putting her astonishing 6 delegate gain in Pennsylvania in the light of the second coming. But the fact of the matter is that the real outcome in Pennsylvania shows that Barack Obama closed a 12% lead down to just 4%. What was Clinton’s argument for staying in the race again?

Posted by David Kenyon | Report as abusive

Considering all the problems this country is facing , it is absolutely ludicrous how you kep nit picking on such minor things.
President Clinton was right when he said that the Obama campaign pulled the race card and they know it.
President Clinton might have many faults but his long record shows that he is not a racist , just the opposite.
Obama has had a free ride and it is long over due that somebody finally asks some question and expects some answers from him.
All his sermon like speeches don’t tell you anything ,he declares himself to be the man for change but fails to explain how and what..!!
His followers don’t seem to care , they are just happy with their chants , yes we can.
Please Senator Obama tell us , you can what , and please give us specifics.
I have yet to hear an original thought or idea from this man ,he is not fit to be the next President.

Posted by Isabelle | Report as abusive

Why do people try to put the spin on Pres. Clintons words and not on their canidates words or his wifes. Seems that their may be a little bit of hypocracy here. This is fortunately America so the right to free speach is protected. But it is always nice no matter who you are to speak honestly and truthfully, and not try to poison the people of color against a proven winner and our next President.
Thank You

Posted by Euegene Pfennig | Report as abusive

Bottom line…Bill is the one that is defensive about the things he says. He made a statement one day and completely denied it the next. He should go back and isten to what was said before accusing the media of putting a spin on it.
This ties in directly to Hillary’s campaign as she claims her experience comes, at least partially, from Bill’s time in office. If Bill is liar, as he has proved more than once, than apparently that is acceptable to her and is the way to do business.

Posted by BW | Report as abusive

Said Bill Clinton today in Columbia, SC: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.”

Bill Clinton made a dumb statement. He opened him self up for media criticism and public criticism. He might as well have said, Obama won in SC cause he’s black. That would have been a little more “real”. Then to go at the Obama campaign and say “they pulled the race card”. Come on people, he made a statement that wasn’t even subtle, comparing Obama’s success to the last “black” candidate who ran in SC.

He shot himself (or rather his wife) in the foot on this one and turned the blame around to appear victimized. I do not blame the Obama campaign responsible for his mishaps. This is politics, they are all shady. Its just interesting and news worthy when one of them slips and starts acting real. This is when the true revelation happens. GO OBAMA GO….its time to really change the game.

Posted by Ms Informed | Report as abusive

Well. Racist or not, it is the question. Both Camps are
playing dirty cards. Voters are getting sick & tired. It
is about time that both candidates concentrate on issues,
rather than on insulting each other. Ex-President Clinton should no longer play a key-role in future Primaries. He has done his wife lots of damage already.
Fact is that, should Sen. Clinton be nominated as the Dem.
Pres.Candidate,& being a Dem.-voter, I would support McCain, rather than supporting her. Thousands of voters
feel the same. Therefore, Sen.Clinton, stop playing dirty games.

Posted by Jean Michel Nehme | Report as abusive

Why is Barack Obama typically referred to as African-American when his mother was caucasian? He often has spoken of his understanding both races because he is of mixed heritage, so why is this totally ignored? One could call Senator Obama white just as easily.

While the wedging race issue is regurgitated by the MSM, the fact that our current president is torturing people, imprisoning people without ensuring due process, is putting a state-of-the-art satellite in space to spy on Americans, has colluded with major communication corporations to listen in on our telephone conversations (then tried to get the corps off the hook for their illegal acts), is allowing renditions to other countries where who knows who is tortured, is not yet impeached for numerous Constitutional offenses, has just made it legal for himself to send our military into USA streets, has allowed the CIA to spy on environmental organizations, and has been committing other civil and human rights abuses which are too numerous to list here.

So the media provokes any one of the stock “Republican” divisive issues such as race because it finally realizes that Senator Obama believes that power in the hands of the few is not democracy at work; and the media conglomerates do not want to chance that they won’t be able to keep their monopoly should he, but not the Clintons, win. If the public stays off-point, the point being that we are just about to lose the freedom to show dissent in the streets against Giant Corporate Power, all the Republican strangulating logistics can be put in place so that the citizenry will be neutralized.

Look, there are so many issues that the media could have played up instead of Ayers et al — fresh news like the Clintons’ tax shelter on the Cayman Islands, their obscene 109 million income accrued in such a short span, their campaign’s mismanagement and disarray including Mark Penn just having been caught with his pants down in Colombia, the discrepancy in Canada’s account that it was Clinton who was waffling behind closed doors with them . . . but no, what did the media focus on, and why? See the above paragraph for the answer.

Posted by san | Report as abusive