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. nadine

    I agree with Doug Wilder, 1000%.

    January 10, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  2. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    Reid was 100% right. Obama was our first affirmative action president. It's seen all the time in the business world, it was only a matter of time before we elected someone unqualified to be PC.

    January 10, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  3. Just Me

    Reid is absolutely right and only spoke the truth...why in heaven should he resign?...good grief...

    January 10, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  4. Angela

    Why is it that people are afraid to call Reid and many other "fellow" Democrats what they truly are – racists. Even V.P. Biden during the election was shocked that Obama was articulate, and need we say that his Secretary of State almost blew her gasket over Obama having the "audacity" to even run for President.

    Obama says he is fine with these people. If he is, he is dumber than he looks – or his philosophy is keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I hope it is the latter, otherwise, he sends blacks back 200 years with a "yessir" attitude.

    January 10, 2010 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  5. Robert

    I'm a Democrat and I voted for Obama. Reid's remarks were on the mind of every person over the age of fifty whether they'll admit it or not. My parents are racists but every now and then they'll say something like this which is a "You know it isn't cool to say that aloud this day and age" remark. It is funny the republicans calling for Reid's resignation when Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh said blatantly racist things about Obama and the GOP (and Steele's reaction was) "freedom of speech". Face it, the Republicans are just grasping at straws and looking for anything to delay and draw attention away from the INEVITABLE passage of the health care bill. Pretty transparent and pathetic if you ask me. The party of fear (Beck, Palin), ignorance (Michelle Bachman. Palin), and hate (Limbaugh, Palin), and toadies (Steele) know they have nothing to offer the American people. All they can do is throw stones at everyone else and hope that they cause a distraction.

    January 10, 2010 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  6. Shirley Jackson

    The Republicans need to shut their mouths. They are just looking for any little thing too blame a Democrat. If, we the African Americans are not upset with Senator Reid, so why are they. President Obama has accepted Senator Reid's apology and that should be the end of it.

    January 10, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  7. Mary in CT

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

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

    –Do you mean like he did when Joe "You Lie!" Wilson called the White House to deliver his coerced apology?

    People are so quick to speculate about what if a Republican had said this, etc. Look at Obama's history. He's one of the most gracious presidents we've ever had.

    January 10, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  8. Carol

    What a smoke screen thrown up by Steele over a comment made in 2008 and used to sell two journalist men,s book out this week. How convenient for the Republicans to try and unseat Reid over a faux pas. With everything the Republicans have said about President Obama in the last year they should all resign. The President accepted Harry Rieds apology, over, done with.

    January 10, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  9. Jean 2

    I am a 71 year old black woman. I have lived, worked, attended schools,ets, through all of the name (label) changes. One thing I know for sure is that "it does not matter what we are called or which label is used, we are still black in America with all of the accompanying trappings".

    We black americans shoul stop taking the bait and becomeing distracted from the real issues, education, jobs, equal opportunities, and respect.

    The media pundits, commentators, and reporters are foaming at the mouth and playing it over and over to hide their Poor news coverage.

    We know reid's statement was and is true.

    January 10, 2010 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  10. bobcat1a

    I wish someone who thinks the remark was racist would please give a definition of racism that firts the remark. Reid was making an analysis of American attitudes, not saying anything derogatory or racist about any person of color. Today, a gaffe is an unpleasant truth and nothing more. If you have the guts to speak the truth, PC morons will jump on it. That's why many people describe our system of government as an IDIOCRACY.

    January 10, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  11. Summer

    I do not know why everyone is acting like they are SO surprised. The man simply said what he and the rest of the "machine" are thinking deep down. Did you REALLY think that all of that alleged love-fest was REAL??? Geez, I guess there are still people who can be sold that Brooklyn bridge....

    January 10, 2010 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  12. Karen Carter

    "Bill Clinton's "Political Correctness" has gone too far. Why do we worry over every thing that is said? If Obama is offended by Reid, Obama should sue him in a court of law and see how far he can go with damages. This is all so futile and keeps adding fuel to the fires of racism.

    January 10, 2010 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  13. MysteryMoves

    GOP is grasping @ strays and making-up news like FOX. Steele should step down from his GOP position for failing to recognize and/or intentionally politicalizing Reid's comment, which was purely complimentary with those remarks made by a GOP's house speaker who praised Thurmand for his segragationist views If you truly can't see the difference between the two scenarios then you are probably a GOP who deny racism and/or global warming exists.

    January 10, 2010 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  14. Wen

    Reid only said what all whites think anyway, he just got caught. However, he was outed to try to split the Democratic Party. In the words of my President, Barack H. Obama, "Not this time"... I'm African-American and I still support "Majority Leader" Harry Reid.

    January 10, 2010 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  15. It's The Ronald

    I don't care if this dude has green skin and antennas sticking out of his head. He just another politician carrying out policies of the previous administration.

    January 10, 2010 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  16. phillip Marlowe

    Reid is just speaking a fact. Get over yourselves and how about worrying about our sons and daughters in this mess called Afganistan?

    January 10, 2010 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  17. Texas Annie *-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

    Ya know, President Obama said this issue was closed. So why do all the wanna be's keeping trying to make it a big issue.
    If the man who the comments addressed says it's a non-issue, then let it go. Too many people just like to be judgemental in an effort to try to make themselves look so superior.
    I don't agree with Reid's comments, but if Obama can get passed them, then give it a rest, for Pete sake.

    January 10, 2010 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  18. jmc

    Let's use this as an opportunity to deal with race relations in a meaningful way. Rather than allowing politicians and the like to use this for their selfish purposes. Come on America, we can't possibly think that we all haven't uttered insensitive words about someone else and/or their race, ethnic background, sexual orientation and/or religion. Was what this man said really racist? If the man running for President dark skinned would his chances of being accepted by America in the same manner that our current President was diminished? I think so. What does that say about each of us individually. Are we really at the point where we can accept people for who they are rather than what they look like. Use this as a teachable moment to confront some serious issues, that if dealt with appropriately will allow us to move forward in our thinking and how we deal with one another. If all we are going to do is thrown stones at one another, until the next time, let's move on.

    January 10, 2010 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  19. sheila

    I thought we had FREEDOM OF SPEECH in America? That was said 2 years ago, it is time to move on and quit harping. I am a white female and what was said is reality.

    Where is it published as what to call different races? black, colored, negro, african american, latino, mexican, hispanic, asian, oriental, white, peach, tan, Indian, Native American, American Indian the list goes on.... Some one is going to be offended no mater what you call their " heritage" .

    January 10, 2010 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  20. Will

    Old people are funny.

    You won't find a single young racist Democrat (or Republican for that matter).

    January 10, 2010 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  21. dh

    The true blood American citizens are fighting back with full force. Harry Reid will be on his way out either as Chairman of the Senate or being defeated in November! I agree, the liberal Democrats have used double standards for years!

    January 10, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  22. Dan, TX

    Once all the republicans resign, Reid should follow.

    January 10, 2010 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  23. MM

    I do not see this comment as racist. Sen. Reid was simply stating that middle-class white Americans are more comfortable with Obama becaus he's half white and therefore more likely to be voted in by middle class white Americans. Period.

    January 10, 2010 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  24. Anthony Blair

    Who cares!

    January 10, 2010 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  25. Tom in Raleigh

    Wow, the hypocrisy of the GOP knows no earthly bounds. Harry Reid makes a prediction about the likelihood of Obama being elected, and this is worse than Trent Lott extolling the virtues of a segregationist who advocated continued disobedience of the law, and disloyalty to the Constitution? The one that Lott and Thurmand were sworn to uphold? Please. Michael Steele just oozes desperation, but hopefully the GOP will continue this silliness until November.

    January 10, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
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