Bill Clinton takes on Obama, media on race comments
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.
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)