January 10th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
5 years ago

Wilder sounds off on Reid remark controversy


Washington (CNN) – Douglas Wilder, an African-American political trailblazer, sounded off Sunday about controversial remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during the 2008 presidential campaign which were not disclosed until the recent publication of a book chronicling the historic White House race.

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book, "Game Change," which is scheduled to be in bookstores Tuesday.

The authors quote Reid as saying privately that Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

In a statement to CNN Saturday, Reid said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words."

"I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.”

Asked about Reid’s comments, Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder, who became the first African-American to be elected governor of a state 20 years ago, took issue with Reid’s assumptions about race relations. “We’re not where he thought we may have been a year ago,” Wilder said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“We crossed that threshold 20 years ago,” Wilder said making a reference to his own historic election as Virginia’s chief executive in 1989.

“The unfortunate thing, John,” Wilder told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “is that one snippet ... by Harry Reid illustrates the need for a more open discussion about race and put it where it belongs – into the closet. [President] Obama wasn’t elected because he was – or was not – of any color. He represented a change. He represented a fastening of the dreams and the aspirations of the American people to someone who could bring about change.”

Saying he would have liked to have thought his own election as Virginia’s governor would have put to rest any concerns about an African-American candidate’s race, Wilder also said Sunday that he was “saddened … to see that 20 years later there still is that degree of apprehension on behalf of some people who are in leadership positions.”

Though he was critical of Reid for the recently reported comments, Wilder said he disagreed with the suggestion Sunday from Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee’s first African-American Chairman, that Reid should step down.

And, on the eve of Obama’s first anniversary in office, Wilder also said he thought it was too early to assess the nation’s first African-American president.

“I think it’s too early to even give a grade,” Wilder told King. “Because I think the Obama administration inherited a tremendous amount of problems – not just one. And every day things change.”

“It takes a year or two to get your sea legs, to get your feet under you,” Wilder said pointing to his own tenure as Virginia’s governor. “I had some degree of executive experience. Obama’s had none at all.”

But, Wilder added that he thought Obama was on his way to developing into the kind of president who knows how to wield the power of the nation’s most powerful office.

–CNN Political Editor Mark Preston contributed to this report.

soundoff (161 Responses)
  1. JD

    Once again the Dems show that they are the racest party, not the Republicans who continue to support minorities based on ability, not race. . ..

    January 10, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  2. joe smith

    Art Linkletter said it best, "kids say the darnest things"..but someone else said. "when I became a man, I put away childest things". this will play out, but Mr. Reid will not like the outcome..Now, for something really worth commenting on; Pete Carrol, needs to stay at USC, and become another Joe Paterno..the NFL is no place for this motivator of young men..their he will have to deal with overpaid premadonas, at his own perril, cause, if you don't produce, "see ya". Seattle is not an football town, never was, never will be..so Pete, stay in Pasedena!!

    January 10, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. Joe the carpenter Lex. Ky.

    So now politicians can't say 'Negro'? so it's not politically correct to say Negro anymore, what next, no more saying 'person of colour' ? I understand what Reid was saying it is just what Bill Cosby was saying years ago to the black (oops) population.

    January 10, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. mary

    Reid is a racist–this statement hits at the core of racism– dark skin and the insinuation of substandard English. He must resign! mary

    January 10, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  5. DG

    What a joke. Not elected because he's of any race? If he isn't black (or self-identifies as black) he's laughed out of Iowa because he had ZERO EXPERIENCE that made him qualified for the office. And Wilder touches on it himself – zero executive experience going in. Add to that less than a single term in office as a Senator and obviously you've got nothing except a well-spoken, light-skinned black man who thinks he should be president.

    Senator Reid simply spoke the truth, its unfortunate that he used the term "Negro dialect". He could have simply said that he's light-skinned and knows how to conjugate the verb "to be".

    January 10, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. Aunt Bea and Opie

    No,we are farther apart than ever,every bigot came out of the woodwork now and will believe every lie they are given just so thier bigotry wont be exposed.

    January 10, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. RespectOthersAlways

    Senator Harry Reid hasan exemplary record of supporting fairness for all Americans. His apology is and should be accepted. To err is human. Let's not denigrate him.

    Rather, let's address the fact that what he said is true and we are a nation in denial of the pratical implications of social devaluation on African American men, women and children.

    January 10, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC

    Reid was only saying what everyone knows to be the truth.

    Obama's race was a distinct advantage - as being black always is nowadays. And there certainly is such a thing as a "Negro dialect." It's insulting to my intelligence to even have to point that out, as any child knows it to be true.

    As for "getting beyond race" - that's kind of like getting beyond gravity.

    January 10, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  9. sifto77

    watch libs fall all over themselves to try and defend these Racist demeaning remarks–Obama does not care–it is what he is–but it IS Racist..........

    January 10, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  10. Mitchell from MS

    What is wrong with what Reid said? I am NO dem or Liberal and I agree with him 100%. People need to stop being so politically correct and concentrate on more important things like the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the renewed terrorism efforts, etc....

    January 10, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  11. dallas alphonso

    People of all stripes say things in private that they would never utter in public. In any case what Harry was talking about was the inner city dialect, not black dialect, every one in the inner city knows how to speak "ebonics" blacks, whites, latinos , even asians. Gov. Wilder is from another time, so is Senator Reid, both men are reflections of those eras. I am not giving the Senator a pass, it was just a silly thing say but I was not offended by it one bit!

    January 10, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  12. Jack

    Reid is such a tool.

    January 10, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Dan Holiday

    Why can't democrats see how unbelievably racist they truly are? I mean they have a former KKK member in their ranks. Reid says this kind of stuff and you defend him? They promote affirmative action which is racist as can be. Assuming that a minority can't get a job or get into a school unless you give them a leg up? Please...that is so racist it is not even funny. Democrats are the party of racism and it shows.

    January 10, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  14. James Brooklyn N.Y.

    Let me say it simply

    SHUT UP

    What he said was the truth.

    January 10, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. 1GregM

    Just another face plant from the head criminal king of sensitivety from Nevada. COME ON NEVADA – MAN UP in 2010 and get rid of this embarrasing gaffe ridden partisan hack and stop embarrasing your state in the public eye. Do yourselves and the rest of the country a favor and put this idiot on the unemployment line where he has put a lot of Americans in the last year. Talk to your friends and tell them it is important to get out to VOTE in 2010 and clean the House and 1/3 of the Senate of the deadwood that inhabits the halls in DC. Regardless of party thay all need to go and we can stiffle this slow motion train wreck filled with cheats, failures, theives and maroons and begin the healing we so desperately need for this country. I want my country back – how about you.

    January 10, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  16. Jeff of Redondo Beach

    It took TWO years for this to come out? Sadly what he said is a very poor choice of words but the message behind those words is there. Also, if Bush had said those words, we would be witnessing impreachment proceedings... Reid should resign his office!!!

    January 10, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. Bill

    As a person of color the most offending(totally) desciprtion of who I am is African American(it drives me absolutely crazy!!!!). I would rather be called a coon than African American. There are hundreds of thousands(maybe even a few million) of white people living in Africa. There are also a substantial number of white people born in Africa. A white person from Africa can come here and call themselves African American(so where does that leave us?). Having had lots of contact with people of color from Africa about 30 years ago, I was told by them that I was not African and by their definiton not really black. The white man down the road who lived there all his life was African while I was not.

    January 10, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  18. James Brooklyn N.Y.

    Let me say it simply

    SHUT UP

    What he said was the truth.
    We have serious problems left by the Republicans and we need serious people to solve them. Bickering about wether or not someone offended someone else by speaking a truth is stupid.

    January 10, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  19. Virginia

    I think Wilder is naive– but/and I think Reid's remark was just an honest assessment.

    January 10, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.....

    that's right.....Reid said what he believed......he can either go NOW or the voters will throw him out in November....

    January 10, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  21. Morgan

    Wilder said pointing to his own tenure as Virginia’s governor. “I had some degree of executive experience. Obama’s had none at all.”

    About time someone on the em side openly acknowledged this. It is any wonder Obama is having difficulty getting a handle on the issues....? He and his crew are akin to elementary school kids in a masters program.

    January 10, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  22. Bridget

    I haven't heard the word "Negro" since my late, racist 80-year-old grandpa used it when my grandma would make him behave "politely" in restaurants rather than allow him to say the (other) "N" word in public. Bottom line is that Senator Reid wouldn't have said it if he didn't mean it and he is ignorant, yes. It makes me more sad than angry. President Obama is a big man for accepting his apology. I don't know that those are words that one can take back...they show true character.

    January 10, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  23. Son of the South

    A racest remark is a raciest remark regardless who says it. Reid shhould step down, if he, as a lawmaker, is that stupid. He doesn't have the sense to make a proper judgement. If a GOPer made such comment it would be HELL to pay

    January 10, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  24. J F G

    Racism is A-OK if it comes from the Left.

    Harry passes along his thanks, Doug, for the cover.

    January 10, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  25. Jeff U

    Does Mr. Wilder seriously think that a very dark-skinned man who speaks Ebonics could have been elected President? Get real. This was not a racist comment; it was a comment ABOUT racism. Big difference . . .

    January 10, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
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