January 10th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
8 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. Old White Virginia Female

    Maybe I'm as negative about the state of race relations in this country as Senator Reid is, but I do not believe President Obama would have had a chance in this world of getting elected a year ago if he spoke Ebonics! The fact that he was so articulate and obviously intelligent, in contrast the previous eight years, was what got this man the white vote. He was inspirational when he spoke, but without sounding like a black preacher. I don't know about the percentage of white in him being a particular asset. In my part of the country, if it's visible that you have ANY black heritage, you are considered black. So I don't think the fact that he is considered light skinned made much difference to most people in the South at least. So maybe Senator Reid would have preferred that he not be associated publicly with his remarks, but I believe they were honest and true. How can you crucify the man for that?

    January 10, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  2. LacrosseMom

    Racism is ignorance, anyone who thinks that racism is part of our past, is seriously mistaken.

    All we need to do is read some of the vile comments on Tea-baggers signs, a comment by Harry Reid, comments by Rush & the haters of the far-right..... etc., etc.

    How sad that in 21st century America, racism is still alive.

    January 10, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  3. Common Cents

    So he said it...BIG DEAL! It was the TRUTH. Just another slimey, political move on the GOP's part to pull votes away from the majority leader this fall....

    January 10, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  4. logan

    He needs to step down and I am a black Democrat. His comments are inexcusable and if he were Republican we would have his head. Lets not have a double standard here. Lets hold Democrats and Republicans accountable for their actions.

    January 10, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  5. Benjamin

    I despise Senator Harry Reid for many other things. For instance, when he claimed the war in Iraq was lost and his opposition to a surge build-up from the Bush administration. However, his comments in 2008 about candidate Obama were in fact accurate and the general population would certainly agree. Because, I actually voted for Obama and I'm still glad that I cast that vote. If candidate Obama would have spoken for instance like Rev. Al Sharpton or Rev. Jessee Jackson and used unintelligible utterances or ghetto dialect, then obviously the outcome would have been different. President Obama sets a fine example how everyone (all races) should strive to speak Why does he need to apologize? Why do we have to always be so sensitive and politically correct?

    I will NEVER vote for a Republican again. Because Republicans only have big business's interest at heart or in their back pocket. Republicans only care about people whom have lots of money and screw everyone else.

    January 10, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  6. Elliott Carlin

    The reaction from most on the boards here to Reid's negro remark only confirm the hypocrisy we knew existed.

    The more important point that seems to be missed is Reid talked about Obama showing his fitness "to rule".

    I'd say Harry needs to go back to school, but he'd probably learn nothing about our constitutional republic. Presidents don't rule.

    Except for this one.

    Maybe Harry let out two Freudian slips there.


    January 10, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  7. Steve851

    I fail to see anything wrong with Reid's comments. His PC apology, however, is BS

    January 10, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. a real American

    You'd think this incident would wake up minorities, particularly African-Americans, to the hypocrisy of the Democrat Party, but I doubt it. Interesting how, in defending Reid, people point out how the senator has backed this or that legislation in a weak effort to show how much he truly cares for black people. That means nothing!!! If anything, it just shows how Democrats use minorities' causes to appear sympathetic, while doing very little to help these people and their communities prosper.

    Question for minorities out there: do you ever feel insulted by politicians who assume you are incapable of succeeding without their sympathy? Just wondering.... and you can call me racist if you want, because then I'll know my point is spot on!

    January 10, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  9. WhySoHypocritical?

    Hahahaha....gotta laugh again at the Democrats. You lot are always pointing your fingers at others yet your own house is in disarray. If a republican had said the same thing all of the liberals would be salivating and foaming at the mouth dying for a chance to puclicly castrate the Republican. Oh joy, we still have 3 more years of you idiots contradicting yourselves and creating even more joke material.......

    January 10, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  10. Too True For You

    I don't agree much with the nouveau republicanism, but I have never been able to defend those two clowns, Pelosi and Reid.

    January 10, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  11. marty-l

    President Obama, must began to address this unemployment issue with job creation like President Roosevelt did in this serious recession time period that the country is facing. He can not continue to allow so much focus of this Health Care Reform bill issue. He is responsible for not providing the guidance to want he wanted, what he was not going to compromise on, and not excepting any excuses or delays for getting this bill completed and signed into law. It has taken one year which is too much time when there are so many other issues that need plans and solutions. Also, looks at how much other crap has been added to the bill to weaken its inital goals which were to provide affordable, and basic healthcare with a public option(s) choice to all Americans whlie at the same proividing competition to the private health care insurance companies.

    January 10, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  12. Pearson

    Is there any question about the quality of Democratic leadership?

    January 10, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  13. sandy

    Why can't these so called politicians keep their big mouths shut and just do their job. If I were Obama, I would not accept his apology. They think they can shoot off their mouths and that all they have do is apologize. Not so!! By the way, I am white and I think Harry Reid should also step down.

    January 10, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  14. Rah

    As a black male I didn't find what Reid said as that offensive. Being that as a black male, myself and other black men understand the lucid concept of the "threatening" black male. I think all this media outrage is being drummed up by those that are uncomfortable with his statements because they resonate on a certain truth within this country. That the general masses of "White" and otherwise non-Black America have certain fears based upon racial stereotypes created by racial bias. With regard to those fears in my opinion Reid did not speak upon the fears or hangups but the successes in response to such racial bias. At the end of the day any good marketer or saleman knows that when you appeal to the masses the less specified or more like the "masses" you become the greater your chance for success. Reid just explained the truth in regard to an adjacent truth regarding the past of racial relations here in America. I think Reid's only faults in this matter was an asute perception and lack of knowledge of howhis words could be used against him of which only hindsight would have provided.

    January 10, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  15. rise

    I am a black women, and what Reid said was something everybody thought, I remember when the black community, Tavis Smilly, Jessie Jackson and others cried barack wasn't black enough. Can we just accept Barack Hussein Obama is our President today. I am so happy and proud that he is

    January 10, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  16. martin wnuk

    Harry Reid is 71 years old I believe. His generation had and has a certain outlook on race relations. He grew up in an America where blacks had no civil rights, were completely separate culturally and had little if any exposure in mainstream white America.

    But the plain fact is that he is right on this issue and there is nothing more radical than telling the truth. If Obama had been an African American with very dark skin and spoke anything except for the perfect slang-free english he speaks...he would not have had a chance in hell to get the nomination to run for president.

    America is NOT ready for a black everyman as president but nonetheless Obama's election represents and enormous step forward for an America striving to live up to high ideals but one that has often taken two steps back for every step forward in race relations.

    January 10, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Lauren

    Obama knows how to wield the power of a rock star and the American electorate voted him their Idol. He is a community organizer, and the puppet of people who are trying to fit America into the Marxist pattern. It isn't the power he wields, it's the power that is wielded over him.

    January 10, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. therealmarie

    He and other media flunkies should stop giving the media and the republicans exactly what they want..........foolishness and foolery. Non issue, non story.

    January 10, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. Gary

    yeah yeah yeah...the democrats have all the same baggage and biases as the republicans. Given the chance they all say dumb things like Harry Reid did. He apologized and now it's over.

    The BIG issues? The BIG issues are Harry Reid and the Dems borrowing too much money....spending too much money....trying to take over health care....trying to make the government too big....trying to take money from the hardest working americans to give to lazy americans who won't work at all. Harry is not listening to the people and for that he will lose his re-election. bye bye Harry.

    January 10, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  20. Terry

    “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.”

    Of course Obama had had little to no experience prior to his election as president. But no one was allowed to say this during the campaign. Now his lack of experience is impossible to ignore, i.e. getting REAL health reform passed!

    January 10, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  21. Flatsguide

    Is this article really necessary? Wilder is just trying to get some publicity, and CNN is acting like "The National Enquirer".

    January 10, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  22. Jeff

    If Reid was a Republican, the calls for resignation from the Left would be deafening. But it looks like the Left will largely forgive Reid. The double standard is just business as usual.

    January 10, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  23. Preston k

    Pkm reed make a mistake and said he was sorry the rupucs always hurt people but never say they are sorry there was this is obamas call

    January 10, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  24. american patriot

    Sad yes, but is it TRUE.

    YES it is and people need to admit it.

    If Obama had great big lips and real wide nose and spoke with the big black slang, he would never been elected to anything.

    Micheal jackson changed his appearence.
    Opra changed her appearence 100%.
    Do you see Black Famous models with wide noses and huge lips, NO YOU DO NOT.
    They tend to have black skin but white features.

    Tiger Woods. He did not have sexual relations with Black Woman did he??? NO HE DID NOT.

    Blacks need to come clean and start admitting the truth about the world and facts of life. I am not saying it is right or not, but it is reality.

    I wonder if Blacks think Obama is a Rascist since he filled most of the top White House positions with Blacks and even overlooked more qualified Candidates from other races with many more years of experience and Education????

    I would have to say that is a major form of Rascism and descrimination

    January 10, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  25. roscoe

    The voters will take care of Reid for us. Hopefully before too much more dmage is done.

    January 10, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
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