January 15th, 2008
01:20 PM ET
15 years ago

Major Clinton supporter calls Obama remark 'absolutely stupid'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/14/art.rangel.gi.jpg caption=" Rangel had some tough words for Obama Monday."](CNN) - As both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tried to lower the tension after days of charged rhetoric over race, a congressional supporter of Clinton's presidential bid called the Illinois senator's remarks attacking her over recent comments about President Lyndon Johnson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “absolutely stupid.”

"How race got into this thing is because Obama said ‘race,’” New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in Congress, said in an interview on NY1.

“But there is nothing that Hillary Clinton has said that baffles me. I would challenge anybody to belittle the contribution that Dr. King has made to the world, to our country, to civil rights, and the Voting Rights Act,” said Rangel. “But for him to suggest that Dr. King could have signed that act is absolutely stupid. It's absolutely dumb to infer that Doctor King, alone, passed the legislation and signed it into law."

Rangel’s remarks came in response to Sunday comments from Obama, who told an audience at a Nevada campaign event: "I am baffled by that statement by the Senator. She made an ill-advised statement about Dr. King, suggesting that Lyndon Johnson had more to do with the Civil Rights Act. For them to somehow suggest that we're interjecting race as a consequence of a statement she made, that we haven't commented on, is pretty hard to figure out."

The New York senator has since tried to explain the intent of her remarks was not to diminish the contribution of King, but to point out the benefit of experience in enacting positive legislation.

Rangel also implied that Obama’s admission of prior drug use in his autobiography may have had a financial motive: "I assume that the book was not written for political purposes. It was honest….It was a big mistake for him to have done it [used drugs.] For him to be honest enough to write about it, I guess he thought it might sell books."
Video: Watch Rangel on the Clinton-Obama spat

–CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
soundoff (1,694 Responses)
  1. RH


    January 15, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. David Cohen

    What I have enjoyed most about this election year is the missing race card-.. up until Rangles comment.. Obama's race has gone without much mention.. which is as it should be.. that he is black, white or purple is not germain to the issues at hand, his ability to be president, or his views and abilities.. To inject this into the process simply serves to cheapen it.

    I so wish people would drop that stuff in front of AMERICAN.. Aftrican-American, Jewish-American, Indian-American and just use the term AMERICAN.. these prefixes simply serve to divide this nation- black, yellow, white, and red all bleed the same color blood when they defend this country.. show me someone who's blood does not bleed crimson.. and then we can talk about why that person is different..

    January 15, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. Solomon

    Hillary Clinton said what she said.

    She was trying to suggest that it took a president like Lyndon Johnson to sign legislation like the Civil Rights Act into law. She was suggesting that she would be that kind of president. But, her well intended statement came out wrong.

    Barack Obama has said nothing that is inaccurate.

    More important, he said nothing at all about the Clinton ill-advised comment until the media put a spin on Hillary's comment. The established media is injecting race into the political debate, and are falling in lock step with the rhetoric of fear that the current administration and its surrogates have used to intimidate and control he electorate in supporting ill-advised domestic and foreign policy.

    However, I am more disappointed with the inflammatory rhetoric from old school African American leader like Rangle, Lewis, and Johnson in defense of their candidate Hillary Clinton. This is where the regrettable disconnect exists. The real debate should be about how we protect the US Constitution from right wing and left wing attacks.

    Barack Obama offers new hope for those of us who are tired of the sociopolitical approaches of the past. Rangle, Lewis, and Johnson have made contributions to the historic public debate over civil and human rights, but now sadly they appear to be out of touch and out of step with what is needed today to return political power to the citizens of the US. This is part of the message that Barack brings. Those with conflicts of interest cannot be independent in their government work.

    Rangle, Lewis, and Johnson make the case for why we need someone like Obama or Edwards to move the country forward and not backwards. And, I agree with Obama and Edwards, that years spent in Washington D.C. is not the essential experience required to lead the country forward. We need leads with vision, energy, and courage to get out of the socio-economic mess that we are in today.

    JFK, RFK, Bill Clinton, and others are example of youthful leaders that moved the country in the right direction without tons of prior D.C. experience. I'm sure there is a good supporting role for Hillary to play in the new administration...

    January 15, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. Syd

    If you are sick of seeing the race card being played in the Primaries, just wait for the Big Show, should Obama last that long. Every criticism thrown his way will be interpreted as a racially motivated comment by someone. And if the media or bloggs miss one, there's always Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson waiting in the wings to keep the hate alive.

    I can see white America becoming very tired of this situation and the white supporters of Obama could very well diminish quickly. The Dem party, as usual, has found another way to self destruct. Astonishing.

    January 15, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. southeren democrat

    Let's not try to rewrite history for some stupid political gain.President Johnson started the Civil Rights movement as the senate majority leader prior to being picked for a vice-presidential candidate. Kennedy made some movement on that but pres Johnson did accomplish his senate goal and singned the act.Dr Kings actions may have helped it along.However he did not sign nor create the bill.

    January 15, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. ekm621

    I tend the vote Democratic but I'm suffering from insult fatigue. I like both Obama and Clinton but these non-substance insults reeled at both of them lately are turning me off. I might throw my support behind a Republican this time.

    January 15, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  7. Lynne

    I saw the entire interview with Congressman Rangel and naturally it involved a lot more than the "stupid" comment. The interviewer like the rest of the media wants a nasty fight between candidates because it makes good tv and gets everyone riled up, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the issues that concern most voters. Congressman Rangel had it righ, it is stupid to suggest that MLK could have signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Only a president could do it and only the legislative branch could pass it to begin with. That's not racist, that's basic civics. And remember these candidates are all running not for MLK's job, but for LBJ's job. I'm voting for a doer not a talker. This is a whole lot of foolishness over nothing and simply an attempt to racially polarize the South Carolina voters. Rangel is Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the most important (purse strings) committee in the House. He doesn't need a job in Clinton or Obama or Edwards White House. He's doing just fine.

    January 15, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  8. sacto joe

    Evidently, the Clinton's have decided that, if they can't win the presidency, make sure a Republican does.

    January 15, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  9. Fiorella

    Hillary is a woman and Obama is a black man...yeah I get it, SO WHAT! Let's unify the democratic party and rid Washington of the Republicans already.

    This "truce" should include a clause...No matter who wins the nomination, the other should be the running mate...

    I defy you to name ONE republican candidate who can beat a CLINTON/OBAMA or OBAMA /CLINTON ticket!!


    January 15, 2008 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  10. John G, New York, NY

    I am a New Yorker and am deeply disappointed by Rep. Rangle's incredibly poor judgement in giving a statement that only fuels the flames of racial doscord. Sadly, his statement seems to be based on the assumption that social change comes when a POLITICIAN is able to pass legislation.

    The fact is, passing landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires the investment of huge amounts of political capital. That political capital is derived from BOTH the voting booth (getting good people elected to high office) and public opinion (via capturing the hearts and minds of the public). Many Civil Rights Acts were proposed but failed throughout the first half of the 20th century, blocked by BOTH bigots in Congress and an apathetic public. The success in 1964 came as a result of the combined forces of a brilliant and genuinely good legislator (Johnson) and a brilliant mover of the public soul (King).

    To be clear, King sacrificed his life in the effort. Johnson however, did not escape unscathed – his leveraging of the Democratic Party to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 resulted in the loss of viability of the Democrats in the South for the past 4 decades.

    January 15, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  11. Joseph

    This is it! This is our line in the sand time. I'm a 29yr old black male and if you are around my age of people who don't understand the NAACP's job, really don't like the Al and Jessie, and know that white people are not the only problem in black neighborhoods our time in now. The older generation time has come and gone. They don't fit in the current world of politics anymore and it's up to our generation to lead them out the door. They know if Barrak becomes President their argument is over, their marches, TV apperances, and just plain ignorances is over. They know this that's why they are attacking him this is the most I've ever heard from Black Caucus members on any subject. It's sad but it has to be done for us to grow.

    January 15, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. Joseph

    Good point, America as One!

    I've been thinking about the same thing. Why scrutinize the Democratic field now? Let's just drift along with sweet dreams and lofty aspirations. Much better to leave the dirty digging for a national campaign so the Republicans can sniff through every piece of dirt.

    I can't wait to see those first-person ads of the childhood friend they dig up. The one who used to hang with Obama before they were sentenced to federal pen for drug trafficking. Or maybe will see his best-buddy on the real estate dream transaction, looking all spiffy in a suit (as he's dragged off to prison).

    But why bother with all that now! It's a happy time! Let's just smile and wave on the way to the convention.

    Wake up, people! If we can't discuss the sensitive topics now, when will it be ok?

    January 15, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. David, Silver Spring, MD

    I think the time has come for everyone, and perhaps especially Charlie Rangel, to observe the famous quotation from the philosopher Wittgenstein:

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

    January 15, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  14. fietts

    It’s heartwarming to see Chairman Rangel found time to tear himself away from his $35,000.00 portrait to add fuel to a dying fire. The Obama Camp never wanted his running to be about race as they knew if it ever came down to that they would not win the nomination.

    BO’s focused less on being a Black Man running and more concerned about being seen as a Man running for office that happens to be black.

    Both LBJ and MLK Jr. needed one another to make the Civil Right Bill a reality, just like B.O. and HRC will need whites, blacks and Latinos to get into the White House.

    Time to raise the game, far too much rest in the balance…

    January 15, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  15. mike b

    One thing that this primary has done for me is to cement what I have known for all of my adult life, American blacks are so different from black people the world over that it is seriously naeusating, these people really do not like themselves or each other, and yes I am a black Jamaican , but seeing Bob(black television)Johnson, Charles Rangel etal prostitute themselves for the Clintons is shocking, this begs the question why are they so afraid of a president Obama,like Michelle Obama said so aptly blacks really do not believe in themselves so the just assume it can't be done so the vote for the person they feel can .
    I have ZERO

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  16. PSC

    I live in NYC and I know Charlie Rangel and I am upset that he would take this stance. He is entrenched in the Bill Clinton campaign of a "War on Words" because they are all in Bill Clintons pocket and they owe him the politial careers. It would seem to me if they had any sense what so ever that they would have told Bill that this is Hilary's fight and that they were stayiung out of it. No, they come running to his aid because they are weak and unable to think for themselves. They are an embarrassment to Blacks in general, but unfortunately entitled to their opinion. Barak will overcome this attack and see it for what it is, and for what they are. Stuck in the politics of slash and burn all in the name of power!!

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  17. JC

    Hillary must think her negatives can go no higher.

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. charlotte

    None of this would be going on if the people would read or listen to what was actually written or spoken. SPIN,SPIN and more SPIN.........The world is in chaos, Now the US Embassy in Lebanon. The matter of race seems of little import in the face of the real problems we are and will continue face..nothing wrong with expressing your opinions but please be fully informed, or at least as much as possible. I try to check out the facts, I'll admit it is easier to fly off the handle, We are passionate in our opinions, sometime too much so.

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  19. Kristine, Salt Lake City, Utah

    I blame the media for fueling a non-story here just like they did to Howard Dean in 2004 (remember the scream speech they ran over and over and by the time N.H. voted Dean was seen as a joke?).

    What's going on with journalists these days? Can't you find something about this election season that really matters, that really differentiates the candidates, rather than fueling more sensationalism about a couple of innocuous comments?

    The U.S. media also plays a role in our politcal system (remember the whole checks and balances thing) and they have a responsibility to inform us. If they really want to talk about race in this election, maybe they should do a little in-depth investigative reporting and actually find out.

    And Americans need to stop falling for their lazy, salacious stories, too–which just puts money in their pockets and leaves us with bad leaders.

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. Jon, Palo Alto, CA

    For you people who are taking potshots at Congressman Rangel for pushing the draft, remember that he volunteered and served when it was pure hell:

    "Rangel then enlisted in the United States Army, and served from 1948 to 1952. During the Korean War, he was a sergeant in the all-black 503rd Field Artillery Battalion in the 2nd Infantry Division. In late November 1950, this unit was caught up in heavy fighting in North Korea as part of the U.N. forces retreat from the Yalu River. In the Battle of Kunu-Ri, Rangel led some 40 men from his unit, during three days of freezing weather, out of a Chinese Army encirclement; nearly half of the battalion was killed in the overall battle. Rangel was awarded a Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound to his foot and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his actions in the face of death." (from Wikipedia).

    I was drafted into the army in 1966, and served in Vietnam. A draft nowadays would have been a real hindrance to Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and it would slow down Bush's back alley march on Iran.

    January 15, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. brewster

    I am a Democrat, and I lost a lot of respect for Charles Rangel today. He knows this isn't what Obama said. If should be attacking anyone, it is Congressman Clyburn, the neutral party to raised this issue in the first place. And Clyburn did not say what Rangel purports to be the offending statement, either.

    Some African-American leaders are going to have to do a lot of soul-searching if Obama suffers as a result of this game-playing.

    January 15, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  22. Ron in CT

    Rangel is right. I'm glad he had the backbone to say it. That said, its a shame that this has even become an issue. The democrats need to come together, and focus on what's important to most americans: solutions to the faltering bush economy, the dollar that's been driven into the grave, the endless war, lack of a sane environment policy, and backing away from foreign oil dependancy.

    January 15, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  23. checkthisout

    Obama wants the White Votes and at the same time he does not think it right for Blacks to vote for anything other than Black !!!

    Pathetic !!!

    January 15, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  24. Debra Austin, Texas

    Rangel is such an old time politician. He doesn't care about promoting the first black candidate with a legitimate chance at the White House. What he cares about is his own political ambition. He's been playing the 'house' black for the Clintons for years. Why wouldn't he carry their water now. What legitimate public figure uses language like "stupid" when describing Obama's response to attacks made against him. This is a stooge and apparently there are a lot of these types carrying water for good old master and mistress Clinton. It's disgusting.

    The reality is that Obama called the truce last night and Hillary quickly responded so it looked like she was leading that "feel good" charge. Too late Hillary, your 35 years of leadership was missing again. And yet, her minions continue to blast Obama, not on policy but on character issues. Typical Clintons, just like the Bushes. Aren't we tired yet of this nothingness.

    Boy, can you just wait to get Bill back in the White House. Talk about character! Please. And don't you think he's been acting Presidential lately. Give ME a break!

    January 15, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  25. FCR

    From what I remember from the days when johnson was president, he was known not as a great diplomat or ever a good person, but as a bully and a black mailer. He had the FBI and CIA digging up information about people (congress members, governors, etc) that he then used to threaten them to get them to do what he wanted. He did some good, but he also gave us the Vietnam War and some other things that were not so good. He was the original fear candidate and he ended up about as popular with the world as the present texan in the white house.

    January 15, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
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