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. rickymo57@nyc.rr.com

    This is such a non-issue. The GOP has nothing to offer so they make this an issue. Who cares...a lot of us say stuff and we apologize. Lets move on....silly.

    January 10, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  2. jack greco

    Reid's remarks were sadly accurate, i don,t know what world wilder is living in but the america i live in still has stong racial problems.

    January 10, 2010 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  3. Peter s

    Nonsense and more nonsense! everyday! time to send these goons home is now! any politician in the pocket of lobbyist should be sent home!!

    January 10, 2010 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  4. Chris

    As long as the African Americans in this country want to make race an issue ..... well, it will be an issue. Only when they decide to quit amplfying every comment that they don't like as racist will it be over ..... liberals have nearly ruined this country with their way of thinking ..... let people say what's on their minds and take it for face value ...... otherwise, get to work saving this country.

    January 10, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  5. African American Independent Voter

    Would Reid's comments be considered racist by the left if they were said by a Republican?

    January 10, 2010 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  6. Ms. M

    The problem with all of this is our media outlets and our crazy desire for sensalization. I beleive that statement said that it was 'private'. The statement was inappropriate. However, true journalists would never take someone statement and use it for his/her on own monetary purposes; especially if it was a private comment (off the record). When we fire all of current politicians, we should stop watching the news, reading the newspapers, megazines, books and other things that we support through purchasing. It is all 'hype' and not true, meaningful reporting (I miss Peter Jennings).

    January 10, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  7. Dilligaf

    If Reid was a Republican, the MSM would have been getting quotes from every member of the Dem Black Caucus for him to resign. Instead .... I hear crickets chirping. Yet one more example of the incredible double standard that exists in the MSM. It's bad enough they helped elect this moron whose running the country, but continuing to ignore the insanity of what this Admin and Congress are doing to the country, and continue with their cheerleading is despicable. I hope every Lib newspaper fails this year. But Congress won't let that happen. Can you say bailout?

    January 10, 2010 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  8. MGS

    Democrats are so hypocritical. I also think Obama has convinced them all that everything that is wrong with his administration is Bush's fault. He certainly says it enough, & maybe he believes it too.

    January 10, 2010 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  9. Robert

    who cares????????????

    January 10, 2010 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  10. Janice Peebles

    You know I think the media should let this go. It happened a year ago and the President accepted Reid's apology. We don't need to start a race war. I am a black woman and the media scares me by giving things like this life more than the words that were spoken. We all have to live together. Like I said LET IT GO! Oh and by the way Reid was right do you think a black man would have been elected POTUS if he was educated, spoke well and also carried his self well the way our President does?

    January 10, 2010 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  11. peterzap

    Harry Reid's apology was accepted and he will stay on because he is needed to pass the health "care" mess. My prediction, just like Dodd, he is not going to run for re-election.

    January 10, 2010 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  12. A Concern citizen

    He knows he made a mistake, he regret it thoroughly, now move on people... Have you made mistakes before???

    January 10, 2010 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  13. Marie MD

    To reid and others who think like him. My family is white. We voted for President Obama NOT because of his light color or his diction. We voted for him because bush's dictatorship almost took this country to the Dark Ages.
    We would have neve voted for mcnasty, but after he brought in that woman even our repug family members turned against him.
    We wanted a president who could think long and hard before making decisions that are detrimental for our country.
    Regardless of what reid said he is stil part of some white people who still don't get it.

    January 10, 2010 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  14. gotta hav

    Democrats are such hypocrites.....if a Republican had made such a outrageous comment, heads would roll and a chorus of protests would be un-ending. What do we get from the Left Wing of this country and from the Black Caucus.........yes, you heard it.........absolutely nothing.

    January 10, 2010 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  15. Keith

    When Sentate Majority Leader Trent Lott made an inference remark in celebrating Strom Thurmond then Senator Harry Reid called for his resignation. I find it funny that the liberals and civil rights leaders, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, stood together for this incident but are willing to let Harry Reid survive to fit their agenda. The hypocracy involved only gets deeper and deeper.

    January 10, 2010 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  16. PV

    ah....hello this was 2008...perhaps this is all a ploy to blunt the future passing of health care by the dems...nice try Rethuglicans...way to try to devert our attention away from the real issues...surprise...surprise...

    January 10, 2010 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  17. Catmom

    And that is Wilder's opinion. You see, not all blacks think alike. I will say though that this country has a long way to go, racisim is alive and well in America there is no doubt about that.

    January 10, 2010 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  18. Obama's Banana Republic

    For those that defend Reid, what would be your thoughts and feeling if Jim DeMint or John McCain would have said it? I know exactly what would be happening if that were the case and so does everyone commenting on this board.

    January 10, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  19. Liberal wingnut

    Isn't that what got Chris Mathews and the media all excited??

    January 10, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  20. southern cousin

    This whole thing reminds me of the Trent Lott controversy a few years (2002) ago. The big differrence was Lott was not a scumbag and hypocrite and stepped down from his leadership position. That is the differnce between democrats and republicans, they don't blame it on someone else, don't have the state run media defending them. Liberal democrats on the other, well as you can see, Reid has not stepped down nor has Charlie Rangel. Lying, scum.

    January 10, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  21. Praying American

    I have been praying that God will continue to bless Reid and Pelosi because they have worked hard for the people whom Jesus called "the least of these, my brethren". The Republicans profess to be Christians but they only use religion to entrap good people. I am praying that God will take the veil off the eyes of His people whom the Republicans have deluded. Republicans are the wolves in sheep's clothing that Jesus prayed against.

    January 10, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  22. Isaac from Indy

    Uh... what's the big deal.... it's true..... if Obama was talking all "street" do you people REALLY think he'd have been elected?.... grow up... sheesh.

    January 10, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  23. USN

    Where is Sharpton and Jackson demanding Reids resignation and ouster? Oh ,, he's a dem and it's OK . It was and has been republicans from mid 1800's pushing for black freedom wial dems hung them from tree's and slottered black union soldiers in mississippi at a 17th amendment rally . Yes look it up if you value truth .

    January 10, 2010 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  24. usualone

    Harry Reid did show an understanding of people and his choice of words was poor but it was truthful. There continue to be "whites" who feel exactly like those he portrayed. We live in PA in a Democratic district and the comments we hear where we work and among others reflect the ignorance he was trying to explain. People think they know what black people are like, what Jewish people are like, and what Moslem people are like. Their stereo-types are astonishing in this day and age, but in too many quarters they do exist. If President Obama had presented any other type of black person, I truly believe he would not have been elected. Just think how freeing it must be to be a blind person who doesn't judge a person by his appearance. And, I'm sure blind people are better listeners than those who see, even if out of necessity. President Obama spoke more to what the electorate needs than did any other candidate. Thank goodness there were enough Americans who listened to what he had to say and didn't make judgments about his appearance.

    January 10, 2010 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  25. Dave C - NJ

    Obama has "closed the book" on the Republicans caught saying similar things. His treatment of Reid is the same. You all have vivid imaginations.

    January 10, 2010 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
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