December 18th, 2007
07:15 AM ET
3 years ago

Former senator: Obama's Muslim roots 'a substantial strength'

Watch former Sen. Kerrey's interview in the Situation Room Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former senator Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, told CNN Monday that Sen. Barack Obama’s Muslim ancestry would add value in conducting American foreign policy if Obama wins the White House.

Obama is Christian but his father was Muslim as is his paternal grandmother and Obama lived in Indonesia, a Muslim country, early in his childhood.

While Kerrey acknowledged “there is a smear campaign going on,” in an effort to use Obama’s background against him, Kerrey told CNN’s John King “I feel it’s actually a substantial strength.” “That connection to Indonesia and a billion Muslims on this Earth, I think is a real strength,” explained Kerrey.

The former senator, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, also said that “as an African-American,” Obama “can speak in an authentic way to underperforming black youth who I think will follow his example.”

Kerrey spoke with John King Monday on The Situation Room.

Watch Kerrey's entire interview.

–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart


Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Faith • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. Jimenez - Texas

    ANYONE BUT OMBAMA

    December 18, 2007 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  2. Bob Kenyon, Plano Texas

    I agree that being the son of a goat herder, having a grandmother who lives in a small village in Africa and having lived outside the United States has given Mr. Obama priceless life experience. Likewise a familiarity with the Muslim faith can only be an asset. How can we work with the international community unless we understand it? He does. He is who we desperately need to mend our relationship with the world.

    December 18, 2007 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  3. jack, ny, ny

    sam & daphne- why are you upset? Obama does have muslim connections. He never talks about his muslim connections. He just ignores it and starts talking about his last two decades with trinity church. Problem is that Obama is 46 so we know what he has been doing for last 20 years. Question is WHAT WAS HE FOLLOWING TILL THE AGE OF 26?

    December 18, 2007 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  4. Rob

    Hillary Clinton's campaign is pushing racism against Obama! She went really low this time.

    December 18, 2007 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  5. Cody Harding, Kinsley, KS

    He gives him a compliment, and people are on the 'Blame Billary' Bandwagon faster than Ron Paul gets donations.

    It was a compliment, and a well-sighted one at that. If he makes it, it will show the world that we really are a free-thinking nation that does not rule according to a religious sect.

    Some people just can't say anything right, though.

    December 18, 2007 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  6. Shawn, Boston, MA

    This is yet another smear tactic by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Have Bob Kerrey come on CNN and link Barack Obama to the Muslim religion, even though Obama's not Muslim. It's a shame CNN doesn't see through this pathetic and unethical swift-boating of Obama and report it as such.

    December 18, 2007 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  7. It's a sad day, New York, NY

    It is starting. Let the smear begin.

    The real question is– Will America see through this backhanded compliment? Or will they be fooled just like in 2004.

    The Clinton's true colors are shining through. I want the Clintons to continue to promote the smear through other persons, essentially alienating her base. If you really think Obama and Edwards' supporters will rally behind her if she gets the nomination, I think you're mistaken.

    This one, most certainly will not.

    Wallace

    December 18, 2007 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  8. It's a Sad day, New York, NY

    It is starting. Let the smear begin.

    The real question is– Will America see through this backhanded compliment? Or will they be fooled just like in 2004.

    The Clinton's true colors are shining through. I want the Clintons to continue to promote the smear through other persons, essentially alienating her base. If you really think Obama and Edwards' supporters will rally behind her if she gets the nomination, I think you're mistaken.

    This one, most certainly will not.

    December 18, 2007 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. Dan, TX

    USA Today/Gallup
    Clinton (D) 49, Giuliani (R) 48
    Clinton (D) 53, Huckabee (R) 44
    Clinton (D) 52, Romney (R) 46

    Obama (D) 51, Giuliani (R) 45
    Obama (D) 53, Huckabee (R) 42
    Obama (D) 57, Romney (R) 39

    Obama is more electable than Clinton.
    Don't lose this election to the republicans, vote for Obama.

    December 18, 2007 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  10. Surrealist, Fort Myers, FL

    Ok..so he can relate..erh..."speak to them". The big point here...is does he have "something to say"? And if so, does he have the wherewithal and support to follow through.

    December 18, 2007 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  11. TJ WILLIAMS, Los Angeles, CA

    Bob Kerry and Hillary Clinton must really listen to Karl Rove. This kind of sideways slime can only be delivered by professional sleeze.

    December 18, 2007 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  12. John Adkisson, Sacramento, california

    The very essence of schoolyard taunting is at the heart of Bob Kerry's remark. He knows he can hide behind the plausibility of praising Obama's multicultural roots. Yet, as a Clinton supporter, he also believes that connecting Obama's childhood and name to muslim ancestors will smear him in some quarters.

    There is nothing lower than a smear that combines: (1) name calling; (2) religious baiting; (3) racial/ethnic code language; and (4) plausible deniability.

    Hillary Clinton knew he would say this; she knew her husband would say what he said on Charlie Rose; and she knew that her top staff (Penn & Shaheen) would ridicule Obama as well.

    This pattern is more than merely negative. It has the earmarks of sinister.

    Even if one assumes it is not orchestrated, then the incompetence of the campaign reflects just as poorly on this flawed, imploding Clinton campaign.

    December 18, 2007 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  13. Robert, New Yok, NY

    I am getting so disgusted with Clinton surrogates going out and doing to same politics of personal destruction that so bothered them in the past.

    Have you no shame Senator?

    This is race-baiting and playing on people's fears and distrust. If people liked Karl Rove, they should be loving the Clintons right now.

    Some "change agent."

    Thank you Senators Clinton and Kerrey, you have sealed my vote for Senator Obama.

    December 18, 2007 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  14. O.A. Lafayette, MS

    Just when you thought it was safe to forget Willie Horton... I guess "diplomacy" isn't the only thing the Clinton campaign has picked up from George H.W. Bush.

    Such a shame that this organization is bent on exploiting (the often race-oriented) cultural fears, instead of focusing on bringing folks together under her banner.

    December 18, 2007 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  15. jim, bethlehem pa

    How clever..Praise Obama by mentioning his father was a Muslim. That way you can let people know his Muslim backgroud (which is a definite negative these days in America)and supposedly praise him at the same time..The Clinton campaign has outdone itself this time..

    December 18, 2007 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  16. Josh, Columbus, OH

    I actually think Hillary's stick-to-it marriage is "a substantial strength"

    " I think Hillary would be an excellent spokesperson for women whose husbands have cheated on them many times. You see, Bill had many affairs before and during his presidency most noteably a White House Intern. But now Bill has reconciled with his wife and is making things good again by fully supporting Hillary with her career as a politician. I think the Clinton's are an excellent model of how to stick through it in tough times. Hillary has really shown through all the adultery that she is able to take it all in stride and raise a great family, a quality that would be great if Hillary wins the White House.

    December 18, 2007 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  17. RHLee

    This Obama is a muslim story was started a year ago by FOX news when Obama had that cake walk of Senatorial race (Jack Ryan dropped out).

    the real story is about how Obama has never been vetted and will get clobbered in the electoral college for the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Florida

    December 18, 2007 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. Tom - Dedham, Mass

    I admit I am just a white guy who hates the Clinton's, but could these words EASILY be perceived as thinly veiled shots against Obama disguised as "good intentions"?

    First they push the drug thing out there, now applauding his Muslim roots. Hmmmm.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I HONESTLY DON'T think I am.

    Read this and tell me it is either poorly thought out or flat out RACIST:

    "The former senator, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, also said that “as an African-American,” Obama “can speak in an authentic way to underperforming black youth who I think will follow his example.”

    December 18, 2007 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Mimi, Silver Spring

    How low can they go? I was really warming up to the idea of voting for for Mrs. Clinton in my first ever primary (I just became an American citizen), I am now convinced that she is not it. If all her people could do to keep her up in the polls is to talk about Obama's parents who have died years ago.

    December 18, 2007 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  20. Peggy McGilligan, Washington, DC.

    I was surprised by how many digs John Kerrey could take at Barack Obama, and how backhanded the remarks were. Both Kerrey and Hillary Clinton – upon whose endorsement John took the opportunity to deride Obama – ought to respect a candidate who has treated them with respect. It's the trademark attack on others that characterizes the Clintons. Well, Hillary has something she wants to tell you. She’s just too shy to tell you herself. Do you remember, after the fall of the old Soviet Union, the 1990s economy was driven by massive military cutbacks? The Clintons were savvy enough to plow lots of that dirty old money into the US Department of Education. (Teachers Union, already onboard with Hillary.) Beating swords into plowshares, the “peace dividend,” it was a job of work. Then, in 1995, Bill & Hillary founded the incredibly lucrative West Coast Finishing School for Thugs. The rest, you know, is history. But again, Hillary should be telling you this: http://theseedsof9-11.com

    December 18, 2007 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  21. RAC, DC

    Pathetic smear! We know exactly who Obama is. And we really like him.

    December 18, 2007 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  22. Jeff from Indiana, PA

    If there is any doubt about whether this is racist and prejudiced, then take his earlier statements and replace all of the Muslim comments with Jewish: "I think [Insert Jewish name here]'s name may be a weakness to Republicans, but I think it is a strength. First, he is [Jewish], and he can speak to [young Jews] in a way that no white person can. I mean there are hundreds of millions of [Jews] in the world and he can speak to them in a way that no one can" "lead with it as a strength. There's this nonsense out there about him being a [Jewish] Manchurian candidate. He should do a commercial, look the camera straight in the eye, and say, 'My wife Michelle and I are Christians, but my father was a {Jew] and my paternal grandfather was a [Jew], and that fact and my name means I can speak to [millions of] people around the world who need to hear from the United States."

    December 18, 2007 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  23. Ed

    First Kerrey is not Clinton's campaign.
    Second, yes, all the Muslim details are true. Use it or leave it.

    December 18, 2007 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. John Chicago, IL

    RHLee :

    You apparently haven't been looking at any news source other than CNN.

    USA Today just reported today that Barack Obama polls better in battleground states than Hillary Clinton does.

    In Iowa, which is 97% white and predominantly rural, Obama is currently favored to win the caucus and also win that state in the general.

    December 18, 2007 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  25. Dan, NJ

    First off, I agree that Obama's background gives him a better perspective when dealing with both Muslim countries and African countries.

    However, I also think that the Clinton campaign sees the possibility to inovke fear and prejudice among voters. I don't think she is necessarily prejudiced herself but I do think she would exploit anything she thought would help her win.

    December 18, 2007 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
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