February 24th, 2008
02:45 PM ET
15 years ago

Clinton offers regrets for husband's remarks

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/02/24/art.clintonla.ap.jpg caption="Clinton spoke to the annual State of the Black Union forum Saturday ."]NEW ORLEANS (CNN) - In remarks to the annual State of the Black Union forum Saturday, Sen. Hillary Clinton strongly defended her husband's record on civil rights, and offered regrets some of the former president's comments earlier this campaign season appeared to have offended many African-Americans.

Clinton was asked about remarks her husband made while on the trail for his wife in South Carolina last month, including his reference to Jesse Jackson having won primaries in the state during the 1980s. Critics complained about the remarks, seeing it as a suggestion that Obama's success in that state would largely be based on his race.

In her answer, Clinton said many of the attendees to the forum know her husband personally and "know his heart."

"If anyone was offended by anything that was said, whether it was meant or not, whether it was misinterpreted or not, then obviously I regret that," she added. "But I believe our task is to go forward with the agenda that all of us agree upon. That is what I have done my entire life, on behalf of civil rights and women's rights and human rights."

"I believe strongly that there is a shared and common purpose that we all hold very dear, regardless of who you are supporting at this time for the Democratic nominee as president," Clinton continued. "It goes way beyond Barack and me. It goes way beyond politics. And I don't think there is any doubt that I and Bill have been part of that common purpose and that struggle our entire adult lives."

Despite the Clintons' longtime popularity in the African-American community, the New York senator has lost the black vote handily to Obama in every primary contest to date.

Clinton offered no criticism of her rival candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, in her remarks Saturday, instead stressing the importance of Democratic unity once the party's nominee is chosen.

"I am very respectful and understanding of people voting however they choose," Clinton said during a question-and-answer session at the forum. "You know there is no entitlement here. There is no guarantee. People should make up their minds on whatever basis they think is important.

"But I do believe the constituencies that have traditionally supported the Democratic nominee - women, African-Americans, Hispanics in large numbers, working people - we must be united once we have a nominee. "

She cautioned that Republican frontrunner Sen. John McCain will run a tough campaign, and a divided Democratic party may not reclaim the White House, which she said is the ultimate goal.

The annual forum gained attention this year not for Clinton's appearance, but for who wasn't there.

Clinton, D-N.Y., was the only major presidential candidate to accept the forum's invitation. Obama, D-Ill., declined, as did McCain, R-Ariz.

Obama's absence has prompted both controversy and a backlash against Tavis Smiley, the organizer of the event who has openly criticized Obama's decision.

In a letter to Smiley earlier this month, Obama commended the forum for addressing important issues, but explained he needed to focus on his presidential run ahead of the critical March 4 primaries.

"In the final stretch, I will be on the campaign trail every day in states like Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, talking directly with voters about the causes that are at the heart of my campaign and the State of the Black Union forum," Obama wrote.

"That is why, with regret, I am not able to attend the forum."

Smiley has been vocal about his disapproval of Obama's decision.

"I think it's a missed opportunity on Mr. Obama's part," Smiley told CNN.

"Now, I am not interested in demonizing him for his choice, but I do disagree with it."

Smiley's criticism has prompted many people to come to Obama's defense. The talk show host told The Washington Post he has been inundated with angry e-mails - and even death threats.

"I have family in Indianapolis. They are harassing my momma, harassing my brother. It's getting to be crazy," Smiley told the newspaper.

Some of the nation's top black activists and politicians attend the State of the Black Union. Smiley said he picked New Orleans as the 2008 host city to highlight the continued plight of its residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"We owe it to them, those who survived, those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives," Smiley said. "We owe it to them to raise these issues louder than ever."

New Orleans continues to battle problems, including crime and lack of affordable housing. Entire communities still lack hospitals or emergency care.

In her remarks, Clinton noted that the rebuilding of the city should be a national priority.

Obama campaigned in the city before he easily won Louisiana's Democratic primary on Feb. 9, taking 57 percent of the vote.
–CNN's Sean Callebs and Mike Roselli contributed to this report.

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Frank of DC

    Bill Clintons remarks only demonstrated that Clintons only use the African Americans for votes, but may not really love them at heart.

    I fail to see how Hillary did not know the emotional importance MLK plays in African American lives.

    February 24, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  2. Poly

    Well said, Hillary, and well done! Nothing much to gain, and you attended the SOBU anyway. Of course, I was rooting for you before and still am.

    Hillary 08

    February 24, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  3. Hilma Towell

    cnn-you need to get out of your obama bubble and listen to the rest of the country.Last nights snl was a snapshot of what you people look like to the rest of the country.Love Obama-hate Hillary--you journalists are a joke you have absolutely no credibility anymore-Chris matthews and you guys are pimps for Obama-David Schuster has made that word permissable.You need to interview people that are refusng to vote for Obama-comon get real.

    February 24, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  4. Jake

    Hillary has done nothing on her own that can be considered a succes. She has failed at everything, except her election as a US Senator from New York, a sympathy vote from that state. She has failed in her marriage, failed in motherhood, failed in every effort to try and shape public policy and now failed in her attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for President despite having $130 million dollars in the bank and the support of the DNC. Why would an organization with some much to win waste so much money on her.

    February 24, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  5. Obama Mama

    In the middle of a tight political campaign, Obama is right to stay in the states where people need to meet him, hear him and will be voting on March 4 for a presidential nominee.
    With all due respect to Mr. Smiley and the Forum, it isn't fair to expect him (or anyone serious about winning in OH and TX) to drop everything and run to the Forum because they happen to be holding it during the campaign

    I think many people expected Obama to be there because he's African-American. It is important to understand that he is running for the Presidency of ALL America, not just Black America. Right now he is needed in OH and TX (which happen to have millions of black voters too).
    Obama made the right choice for him. Perhaps Hillary made the right choice for her. No one should have hurt feelings.

    February 24, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  6. Ross Chautauqua, NY

    What a non apology! "If anyone was offended by anything that was said, whether it was meant or not..." Hillary can't be honest, can she? Now she uses Rove's tactics to attack Obama. Time to end the campaign, Mrs. Clinton.

    February 24, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  7. maggie

    JB..you are beating a dead horse! It's time to stop it. What happens in any marriage should be personal and of no interest to others. Let it go! We should only be interested in who is qualified to run our country and I think you know, as well as I, that Mrs. Clinton is very well qualified to do that. Her personal life should be of no concern to you or anyone else. The same goes for John McCain.

    February 24, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  8. TRH

    I saw her "performance" yesterday on CSPAN, she is an insult to any and every intelligent African American. Her message was completely void of any real meaning, and insulted our communitie's intelligence. Everything she spoke about out is a ploy to win our support, when are you going to be real with our community Hillary? Clearly we are being real with you by supporting Obama, a candidate who is truthful and honest. Take a hint.

    Obama 08!

    February 24, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. Dissapointed

    Please focus on where a president election should be.

    CNN is running too far away.

    February 24, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  10. Lisa Salt Lake City, Utah

    "I resolved at a very young age that I'd been blessed and that I was called by my faith and by my upbringing to do what I could to give others the same opportunities and blessings that I took for granted," Clinton is also seen saying in the ad.

    Oh no, another one who believes that she was called by God or her faith for this position!

    February 24, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. nosmo king

    I agree JB. How does this empower women?

    February 24, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. Matt Rouse

    Way to go, CNN. It used to be that the media was one of society's last bastions of proper English, but apparently you're now letting anybody with a computer submit articles for you:

    "Despite the Clintons' longtime popularity in the African-American community, the New York senator has lost the black vote handedly to Obama in every primary contest to date."

    The word you're looking for is "Handily", not "Handedly". How about running stuff past a spell-check and/or an editor before you publish it? 10 years ago I would have been appalled at you allowing a sophomoric mistake like this making its way into public view. Sadly, now it's the rule rather than the exception.

    February 24, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  13. CANADA 4 HILLARY!!!!

    i still go with experienced ...Hillary is the one...Obama thinks he know what he`s doing

    February 24, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  14. benjamin

    This is scary. Obama has been getting more Republican votes in the OPEN primarys than some of the Republicans running. The Republicans are asking their sheep to vote for Obama because he will be easier to beat in Nov. This strategy has been known to political insiders ever since open primarys began. Those same voters will vote for McCain in the fall and the Democrats will lose again. This is the Republican's new secret swiftboating weapon and the Democrats were too stupid to see it coming.

    February 24, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  15. PJW

    A truly presidential figure would remember Harry Truman's adage, "The buck stops here." For Mrs. Clinton to "regret" what her husband did rather than apologize for it reveals more of the teflon politician her than the leader she claims to be.

    February 24, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  16. Alexandra

    I agree with you 100%

    February 24, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. rck

    I WISH BOTH CANDIDATES WOULD ADDRESS ONE VERY IMPORTANT CONCERN. What has either done of significance since becoming a Senator? Just give me five MAJOR accomplishments. Politicians make all kinds of promises during a campaign. Then once elected they make excuses for NOT being able to keep the campaign promises. The more typical excuse is, it is not my fault as the other party did not cooperate. Examples: Hillary Clinton promised thousands of new jobs for Upstate NY, and since she became Senator we have more than 100,000 FEWER jobs. Everytime I hear an Obama supporter asked what he has accomplished they sidestep the question. What a great way to decide to vote for a candidate all flash an no substance. May I have some answers please?

    February 24, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. Timothy B. Robinson

    Oh my God, would you people GET OVER Bill Clinton's infidelity?! Is he running for president? No, his wife is. And she's experienced and lays out specific solutions to major problems in this country. She's been torn down by the public and the media since she lost Iowa in January, yet she's still fighting for what she believes in.

    Sadly, this doesn't seem to matter to many Democrats. They hate her so much that they refuse to even research her platforms A LITTLE BIT. And since they're Democrats, their only other option is Barack Obama, who may not have any experience nor solutions to our ridiculous problems, but he's not Hillary Clinton, so that's good enough.

    It makes me sick that I may have to vote for Obama in November because many Democrats didn't take the time to research Clinton, outside from remembering the infidelities of her husband.

    February 24, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  19. Mark

    I am happy to see Hillary trying to re-establish a part of her base. It looks like Obama is taking the black voters for granted by not attending.

    February 24, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  20. Leon


    I'm behind you 100%.

    February 24, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  21. Robin

    I think the media has fundamentally helped Obama strengthen his campaign and it is unfair to blame Bill Clinton if his wife is not doing better. She ran and is running an outstanding campaign despite the media... I kind of feel that the decline and fall of American has officially begun, for the strength of democracy relies on the competence of the press and our press is nothing but a circus.

    February 24, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  22. Donnie from Texas

    I wish everyone would realize that Hillary Clinton is an advocate for women, minorities, children, civil rights and human rights. She has done nothing but put herself through college and work for peoples rights and well being her entire life. Why everyone wants to demonize this amazing woman is truly beyond my comprehension. The Lewinsky matter happened more than ten years ago and all she did was get her face slapped in that public humiliationin which she had no part. It's time to move on with that issue and start to realize that Hillary is the strongest woman in politics today and has the backbone to fix the horrible state that the Bush administration has left us in. For all you out there bashing her, I have this to say. You have made your comments perfectly clear. Not only in what you've said about this woman; but also in your electing the current president twice while the rest of us stood on the sidelines screaming in desperation. Now it is our turn to speak. I say, let's move on, treat Hillsry with respect and attempt to stabilize out country and world which has spiraled quickly down-hill for the past seven years!

    February 24, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  23. Ms T.

    I AGREE!

    February 24, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  24. Bessong Ernest Arrey

    I think Mrs Clinton has been doing a wonderful job. but lets give the credit to Mr Obama for he is soo inspirational. I do wish all of them the best.

    February 24, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. S. Davidson

    Once again CNN misses the *real* story. The reason Hillary Clinton attended the State of the Black Union conference, and Barack Obama did not, is because Obama believes that he must keep black voters at arm's length in order to comfort white voters.

    In other words, Obama is afraid that if he attends a black conference, where black scholars, politicians, educators, and community activists will discuss issues that make some white voters uncomfortable (e.g. economic disparities that have their roots in racial injustice), then white voters will consider him too "black-identified" and run to another candidate. Let's not forget that when Obama visited black churches early in the race, he purposely did not put many of those planned visits on his public itinerary because he did not want the media publishing "and again, Obama visits another black church today".

    Let's face it, the only reason many white voters support Obama is because they believe he "transcends race" which is a code word for "doesn't force us to face the racial problems in our country and how they have affected adversely communities of color."

    As usual, black voters are completely ignored by republican candidates and are taken for granted by the democratic front-runner. (McCain and Huckbee were also invited).

    While 80-90% of black voters voted for Senator Obama, allowing him to win states like Virginia and South Carolina, and also the District of Columbia, Obama refuses to attend a State of the Black Union conference because he knows he can take the black votes for granted , but he can't afford to alienate psuedo-"color blind" white voters. Does anyone think Huckabee would decline an invitation to attend an evangelical political conference or that McCain could afford to snub a conservative conference? Has America really come a along way? No. Not if white voters won't vote for a black candidate unless he keeps his distance from black conferences.

    February 24, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
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