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. Tayo, New York

    Good talk Mr. Wilder!

    Good talk!! Good talk!!!

    January 10, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. Sense

    In the South, especially Louisiana, some light-skinned blacks won't vote for dark-skinned blacks. I give Reid a pass on this one. It may not have been a "politically correct" statement, but probably a fairly valid one.

    January 10, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. EJ

    Harry Reid is simply a victim of the period in time he grew up in. He's admitted his remarks were poor, and I haven't seen many disagree. However, I'd question the level of maliciousness they were intended to contain. I don't detect any. I've seen this in many older Americans from the same era. Talk to them long enough and you'll still get terms like 'colored' and 'Negro'. I don't believe there's any malice in this, it's just factual from their perspective. It will die out with them as newer generations take their place and the benefits of civil rights battles won not that long ago become more and more mainstream.

    And let's not pretend that this is any different than anyone evaluating Sarah Palin simply because she isn't well spoken or otherwise appearing to be of average intelligence. We SHOULD be evaluating the ability and suitability of all our politicians, Reid, Obama, Palin, and any others that take positions of prominence in the national leadership.

    January 10, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  4. D.D.

    Everyone is so hard on this Senator and are ignoring the Druge Report and their story from the book on Bill Clinton. Game Change is going to everyone either apologizing or lying- one or the other. Bill Clinton went racial while talking to Senator Kenndy while he was trying to pull the Senator to his wife's side.
    There are more dangerous snakes out there who just didn't get caught. Be assured they are still hissing racial ugliness toward our leaders of color.

    January 10, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. Carole

    Well said Governor Wilder. Why was he asked about dufus Steele's opinion when Steele is comfortable with Michele Bachman announcing Steele as 'You be DA man'? Also, Steele's party, the Republicans, generated the Christmas DVD Barack the Magic Negro.

    Governor Wilder is still the sexiest man in America in my opinion!

    January 10, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  6. scott

    our gov't and its elected leaders just dont know the first thing about growing up....; they are a bunch of children, who are consumed with their goal of fighting for their respective Party's welfare...and have little concern for the welfare of their country...
    Can someone explain to me just how ANY republican can possibly yell and scream about ANYthing the dems do...when we are, and will be for a looooong time, climbing out of the disgusting mess.................THE GOP left behind??

    scott in NH

    January 10, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  7. Lou from CT

    Bravo for Mr. Wilder's candid remarks. I agree with his candor 100%.

    January 10, 2010 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  8. RPortia

    I grew up in Savannah in the 50s/60s and I know exactly what Reid meant which was that the racism in this country is prevalent and that the only way an African American could have probably won (and did) was if he did not present an image that many people still hold as part of their fears about the races. Reid is a good man and a strong supporter of the President and this is just a mis-speak . President Obama was blessed to be the right man for the job and to overcome the fear that permeates our country even if everyone denies it.

    This is like a holiday for the GOP and all of the Dems should shut up and trust a man who has been trustworthy instead of throwing kerosene on the fire.

    January 10, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  9. Malik

    Reid didn't say anything that wasn't true and as black man I believe that. Look around in our society show me where a person who speaks english with an accent is an advantage to them unless it's a English accent. If your from the south, talk black or hip hop or ethnic with a hispanic or eastern European or an Asian accent do we immediately discount what they say because of how they say it. Kennedy's New England Accent is fine because that's associated with Harvard and Yale as English Accent is associated with Oxford and London. When you are a race that has received more official racism than any other in this Country save the Native Americans you are usually more sensitive but politics are about alliances and getting people to be with you and you can go a lot farther if you sound like everybody else.

    January 10, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  10. BH

    Obama says "the book is closed" on the issue.

    I wonder, would he say the same if Reid were a Republican?

    January 10, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. 31m-PA

    "[President] Obama wasn’t elected because he was – or was not – of any color."

    Unfortunately, Obama was elected because of his race rather than for his experience or qualifications. That's why the supers picked Obama over Clinton. What a shame. I have respect for only one Democrat, Hillary Clinton.

    January 10, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. Mike

    If a Republican or a FOX news commentator had made those remarks, liberals and African Americans would have gone ballistic. But since they were made by a very liberal Democrat who is in favor of free health care for people who won't work , that demographic is silent. Typical double standard by the Left.

    January 10, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  13. Abdallah U Muhammad

    What Harry Reid stated was a fact. If Obama's grandparents had been slaves in America white people of this nation would not have voted for him. Obama is completely Eurocentric in his outlook and admitted that fact numerous times. He play both sides (Black and white). Black want so much to have political representation they can believe that they bought into his game. If one closes their eyes and listen this hustler they will see that he's just another conniving politician.

    January 10, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  14. Joan

    If it was a private comment, then who made it public? People should know who spills private remarks to journalists who are writing books. What was their motive? It is interesting that this comment is in a book which just happens to be published at the same time Sen. Reid is leading a debate on health care reform. Also, if you think about it, the remarks are not so terrible if taken in context. Of course the Democratic leaders would be assessing the characteristics of all of the candidates, Pres. Obama included. Critical assessments and comments were made about John McCain's age and health, about Hilary Clinton being a woman, about Rudy Guilianni's past, about Mitt Romney being a Mormon, and so on. It would be interesting to know if the people who are so outraged about this, especially the Repbublicans, have ever said anything like Sen. Reid said or probably much worse. There are really serious and important things going on in the world right now. Set priorities. Pres. Obama summed it up pretty well in his remarks about this issue.

    January 10, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  15. FJB

    Well here we go again

    January 10, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. Bruce

    Right....The Republicans have been making racist comments forever, say they are "Sorry" and are allowed to move on. Remember when Congressman Geoff Davis referred to Obama as "That Boy" or the many times Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms couldn't help but utter racist remarks. However, Senator Reid makes a racist remark and is not allowed to apologize and move on....whatever the Democrats do, it will never be good enough for the Almighty Republicans....get a life. It doesn't even come down to Democrat v. Republican....it comes down to racist is racist and the punishment should be level for everyone.

    January 10, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  17. Preston k

    Pkm when i heard a black man was going to head the gop i was hopping the gop would change and have RESPECT FOR PEOPLE BUT STEELE IS A PUPPET FOR RUSS L THE RUPUCS THE GOP DO NOT 2RE WHO THEY HURT ONLY ONE PERSON WILL JUDGE REED THAT IS OBAMA

    January 10, 2010 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. Grrr-Awful-O

    I always have to laugh at liberals who cross their own political correctness thresholds, followed the obligatory rallying of other liberals to gymnastically contort logic to explain why it's really ok, when the same thing, when perpetrated by a conservative would be taken as proof positive that all conservatives are bigots. It's why we consider you liberals to be such huge hypocrites! But it also shows once again how naive you are as well. "Change you can believe in"... (if you are inclined to believe in just about anything).

    January 10, 2010 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  19. Dimslie

    Reid's bigotry is unfortunate. Racism is firmly imbedded in the Democratic Party. It's a shame that all the Civil Rights activists have sold out to this pernicious presence.

    January 10, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  20. jeff

    Hillary Clinton lost in the primaries for a far far less direct remark from Bill that was made to sound racist.
    Reid should resign as there is no defence for his comment. It was racist and that is it. Nobody can explain it away
    It took Obama what 3 -4 days to comment on the xmas attack yet within minutes he was commenting and accepting Reids appology. What was more important to try and save Reid or was it more importabnt the xmas attack.
    Shows you his priorities are not in the right place

    January 10, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  21. Pragmatic

    Unfortunately, America is not where it should be when it comes to race – Reid was stating a political reality: Someone looking like Al Sharpton would have had a harder struggle.

    Notice too, how many conservatives list "good looking" when describing why they like Palin ... would she have the same support if she looked like Liz Cheney?

    January 10, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  22. Russ H

    I have been praying to get rid of Reid and Pelosi. Now is the time to get rid of Reid and then start working on Pelosi.

    January 10, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  23. Joe the Regulator

    I have to disagree and state that obama WAS elected because of his skin color. What else can they say about the community organizer who has been proven to be a corrupt racist himself. obama is nothing but the trash that this country was NOT founded on. He is a pandering idiot whose only goal is to make himself look like jesse jackson or al sharpton.

    January 10, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  24. Brad

    There is a huge difference between what Harry Reid said and what Trent Lott said. Trent Lott praised a former segregationist (Strom Thurmond) who had found a home in the GOP and said that the country wouldf have been better off had they listened to Thurmond. That is in no way similar to what Harry Reid said.

    What Reid said was offensive (to some) and stupid and he apologized. Reid also has a track record of working with the interests of minority groups. Lott had no such record.

    Lott was pandering to bigots when he made his statement...Reid was not when he made his statement. For conservatives to try to equate the two is...well...nice try but no cigar.

    Steele knows better. He is just pandering to the same right wing that nows says that the only reason that he remains RNC Chairman is because he is Black.

    January 10, 2010 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  25. dp

    I think too much is made about comments that are made.
    Racism will never stop as long as the blacks keep it in the lime light.
    I just don't understand the black people, such as Jessee Jackson, and the rest keep making issues out of it. They do it just to keep everyone stirred up.
    I am a white person and i voted for Obama so please lets stop the racism everytime someone makes a remark.

    January 10, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
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