January 10th, 2010
04:32 PM ET
4 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. Edward

    There is an endemic racism even within the black community, with 'lighter-skinned' or 'mixed race' blacks being considered 'superior'. As evidenced by the whole hair-straighening, rhinoplasty-ing, skin-lightening, white ckick dating, behavior of the black 'elites'. It's not right, or fair, but Sen. Reid just stated the bleeding obvious.

    January 10, 2010 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  2. Mlhall

    Get your head out of your behine, what Reid said is not racist and he do not need to step down from his job. If people would stop and think just look at the signs the tea bagger carry tell me who is racist. I hope no one forget the town hall meeting with John McCain and Palin no one ask them to step down.

    January 10, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Dave

    Senator Reid has lost touch with the American People. He has forgotten what his primary job is, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It is to bad that a Senator can do so much damage by being in such a high position, say almost anything and they use any excuse when he gets caught. Senator Reid along with many other Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressmen need to retire from Public life.

    January 10, 2010 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. DeeBee

    One can only imagine the "private" comments of many if they came light. ALL of us are guilty of making comments in certain forums we would not like to have repeated. Reid didn't hide, didn't spin it, didn't blame anyone but himself & he apologized. Let's get back to the real biz at hand–health care, employment/unemployment, the mortgage crisis, etc. We have enough to deal with–sure we've come a long way but changing the depth of a person's heart....

    January 10, 2010 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  5. Nunya

    Like it or not, the sentiment is accurate. There are millions of people who voted for Obama who would not have voted for a black man who had the stereotypical 'black accent'. Recognizing that and even voicing it says absolutely *nothing* about how Reid himself views such things. It only says that he is smart enough to realize that there still are people in this country for whom it makes a big difference.

    January 10, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  6. blah

    Blah Blah Blah, another reason to get people on their high-horse again about whatever "side" their on. It's so old already......

    January 10, 2010 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  7. AR

    it's probably better to let Reid and Pelosi get voted out of office this fall so that the American voter can let the Commiecrat party know that they're disenchanted with "change". Anyone can kick a Democrat out of office by calling him a racist (Robert Byrd, anyone?).

    January 10, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  8. chuck

    The reaction from the Liberals show their hypocrisy on this matter.

    "There is this standard where Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own. But if it comes from anyone else, it is racism," Steele told "Fox News Sunday."

    I'd say that quote sums up the situation.

    January 10, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  9. Pill

    Ummm....Republicans make racist comments all the time (Rush, Beck??? C'mon people!!) but no one makes such a huge deal about it because it's what we've come to expect from Republicans. Elitism, racism, bigotry, and the lack of understanding that they are guilty of it. But when a Democratic leader makes a racist comment we are surprised!

    January 10, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  10. Kettle2

    The wording he used....means that OBAMA will choose his dilect and no one else.....northing wrong with that

    January 10, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  11. Theodore L. Boise ID.

    Harry Reid has apologized, and President Obama has accepted that apology. That should be the end of the story here. I say it's time to move on. And yes, I'm a very proud African American citizen!

    January 10, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  12. Craig from Texas

    As a black man I am offended by the comments as I live what he said everyday. I dont "talk like a black guy" is the one thing I hate hearing. I grew up in California in the white suburb of San Ramon and never heard that comment but in 20 years of living in Texas I can not count how many time i have heard that comment.

    Reid meant exactly what he said and should resign as Majority Leader. Democrats always complain of a double standard but it is okay when it is one of their own. Democrats (which I am) need to demand that he step down as it was offensive to millions of voters who they rely so heavily upon.

    January 10, 2010 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  13. marty-l

    Reid has given an apology and President Obama has accepted it. So lets move on to more inportant issues. We do not need to continue down this road of Divisive mis-message. This is the crap we do not need to be focusing on.

    January 10, 2010 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  14. bob garcia

    Oh pullease...he was stating the obvious. Get over the political correctness requirements if you want to have open dialogue.

    January 10, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  15. Michael, Gallatin, TN

    NEW ALERT!!! Republicans want to get rid of Harry Reid. What nonsense.

    January 10, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  16. marty-l

    Steele, needs to shut up he is just trying to deflect attention away from his down fall and the fact the the GOPs are not happy with him at this time. They will be getting rid of his puppet butt very soon.

    January 10, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  17. NornaJ

    Harry Reid made a statement that is factual, but not politically correct.

    CNN must not have much news when they are covering something like this on the news. America is not where we want it to be. We all know that White Americans are more likely to vote for a Black candidate if that candidate has "light skin" and does not soound like what White Americans THINK a Black person sounds like. This is, in fact, how/why Doug Wilder was elected.

    This is a non-issue. Reid did not say anything negative about Black people or about the candidate. Did a CNN reporter run down to Doug Wilder for a comment so they cound "make" a story? Does CNN broadcast every crazy comment the Republicans make?

    January 10, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  18. louise

    As an african american, I find Reid's comments to be extremely insulting. He's saying that light skinned blacks are superior to dark skinned blacks, and that a dark skinned black with equal intelligence (with Obama) would not be elected. If he harbor these feelings, and I think he does, he should'nt be in any leadership position. Liberals aren't double standarded, they have no standards. As long as blacks continue to embrace the Dems, two things are guaranteed. We will be a permanent underclass, and always depend on the government.

    January 10, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  19. BJ in NC

    Having lived in Virginia, the "cradle of the Confederacy" when Wilder was elected as Governor, I heard and witnessed the reaction of some people to his election. ""They" called for a recount and he picked up votes. If anyone can speak on the remarks of the "light-skinned" Negro remarks, Governor Wilder can and the residents of the commonwealth grew to respect him whether they liked him or not. When he took office, the state budget had been drained, sort of the same situation except President Obama's is on a larger scale. The difference is that Wilder's predecessor went away and kept his mouth shut. He did not keep drawing attention to his mistakes like Cheney does for his party.

    January 10, 2010 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  20. jetdriver

    Reid's comments were not wisely chosen, however, he apologized, but needs to go for other reasons. The race issue is as alive with the those making a mountain out of this, enough is a enough- get over it and move on, including Obama – concentrate on your job that needs attention and action.

    January 10, 2010 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  21. Wrensis

    Reid is in trouble with his re-election because of high unemployement in Nevada and diminishing support of his voters and because the White House sees him as a liability. Rahm Emanuel will use this to make sure theracial issue does not go to waste.

    The Health Care bill will be the ride to re-election of Obama and the fact that it only benefits PHARMA and Big Inusrance will not be clear until Obama is out of office and the reality of the corporate pay-off is clear. Any congress person who did not fall into line will be treated the same way.

    Beware the emotions of lik ing or dislikeing. Vote facts

    January 10, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  22. Mo Louis

    I am a Person of Color and in my opinion Senator Reid does not owe anyone an apology. I am not offended by his remarks. He spoke the truth. America would not elect a Black person president if they were dark skinned and not very articulate. America is a great country of pretenders. Pretend you own your home and car. Pretend you are doing well financially when you owe more than you have. We even try to pretend we are not prejudice when all of us are to some extent. Some of us are just more prejudice than others. Read the book "Oops People of Color Live There" and you will understand just how racist a lot of Americans are.

    Senator Reid forget your comments and work on getting a Public Option placed back into the health reform package.

    Mo
    A light skinned Black Person of Color

    January 10, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  23. Wrensis

    Reid is in trouble with his re-election because of high unemployment in Nevada and diminishing support of his voters and because the White House sees him as a liability. Rahm Emanuel will use this to make sure theracial issue does not go to waste.

    The Health Care bill will be the ride to re-election of Obama and the fact that it only benefits PHARMA and Big Insurance will not be clear until Obama is out of office and the reality of the corporate pay-off is clear. Any congress person who did not fall into line will be treated the same way.

    Beware the emotions of liking or disliking. Vote facts

    January 10, 2010 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  24. nadine

    I'm with you Russ,
    I too have and still praying to get rid of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I believe it will come to pass. If Reid feels he done nothing wrong, why he apologizing. And also, why would you make the remark behind closed doors! Make it an open discussion.

    January 10, 2010 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  25. Preston Foster

    First of all, this is not "sounding off." Gov. Wilder's comments are measured and thoughtful. The headline seeks to blow-up a minor dust-up.

    Secondly (and I'm black), what the senator said was true, if not PC (I thought Republicans were against THAT). He was speaking to the real politik of racism that remains an underlying theme in American politics. Senator Reid said it in the context of SUPPORTING then Senator Obama.

    Finally, what matters most is not what a senator says, but how he/she votes. On this count, Senator Reid is fine with me and most blacks. There is a very rational reason why 90+% of blacks vote Democratic. There are also historically rational reasons why, since the time of the modern civil rights movement, Republicans are not trusted on race.

    January 10, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
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