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. alli2

    I don't truly believe his comments would have had any significant effect if the racial bigotry meter wasn't truned up so high by the media and the black voters who still choose to see themselves as the disinfranchised in this country. Under the guise of history, the political correctness of this election seems to apply only to race. It isn't the relationship between Bill & Hillary that's effected her campaign. It's the fact that sexism is so much more acceptable than racism. Most women don't have to look to Hillary's relationship with her husband or her gender to make an informed decision about a candidate's electability, black, white, male or female. I don't believe you can say the same for "some" of the black voters.

    For the first time in the history of this country, black voters have turned out in record numbers. It's not because there is a woman running and for sure it would be different if her opponent was a white male. Women have always appreciated the opportunity to vote. We had to fight harder for it. Black men could vote for almost 30+ years prior to women winning the same right. So to say this is about Bill Clinton's effect on who black voters would vote is a ridiculous notion given the candidates are black and female.

    February 24, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  2. Sandra

    Bill Clinton was stating a fact in SC. It is a shame it was blown into what happened.
    Looking at the last several months objectively, Bias, sexism and racism have been in full display – not against Senator Obama – against Hillary.
    Perhaps it is time for this nation to wake up and see things as they are.
    Senator Obama's Pastor can speak against white people, Sneator Obama's wife can say that she has never been proud of this nation until now. Bill Clinton cannot state a fact without having it held against Senator Clinton.
    This is not just, it is not fair, it is not right. When is this nation going to see things for what they really are?


    February 24, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  3. Obama

    I support you!!!!

    February 24, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. marie

    These little events are revelations in character for Hillary and Barack – she shows up because it is important...he does not. Some nominee you all seem to want to vote for...

    February 24, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  5. pk

    Furthermore, the USA deserves more than a Clinton redux. I do not think we have to endure another personal saga while "THEY (Bill and Hill) attempt to run a country. Shouldn't this be illegal somewhere with respect to the 22nd amendment (term limits). Please spare us.

    February 24, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  6. Erin

    I wish she would concede and retire. She is dividing the party and trying to win at all costs. I am disgusted by her tactics and tantrums.

    February 24, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  7. j. bush

    Ultimately, your husbands comments in SC caused you to fail. So, to recap: He cheats on you time and again. He sabatoges your campaign, and acts like a child. Why are you with him again? And this is strenthening women nationally?

    I would think you would want to show that women don't need to stay around that garbage.
    supported,, ur hubby is a player

    February 24, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  8. Aaargh! in TX

    Hillary says: "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."

    Apparently she doesn't think this applies to Superdelegates. Hillary doesn't respect their role to reflect the popular vote, who have made up their minds. And she doesn't respect Kennedy's and Kerry's endorsement either, which were done BEFORE the vote. Can people see her insincerity? All she does is pander, pander, pander. Aaargh!

    February 24, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  9. Arwa

    I have never read such hateful statements like the ones that are comming from the Obama supporters. Poor sportsmanship, lack of respect and th ereasoning is all behind that Hillary is running against him and they are both neck and neck. People need to look at the numbers and understand that we both have 2 great canidates. Obama supportesr, don't divide people. He is not Jesus Christ. He is a person, a politician just like all the rest. Calm down and provide good reasons of why you will vote for him. This is more serious then you maybe taking it.

    February 24, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |

    Let's see how long Hill stays after this failed campaign. Prediction: she's gone within one year.

    February 24, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. Jerry, Denver,CO

    blah blah blah...IT'S OVER!!! Concede and spare us all from having to witness another second of this charade. Obama will be the next President, go back to New York.

    February 24, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  12. maybe I'm crazy

    too little, too late... why is it that Hillary always sounds like she's lecturing her audience? Why does she always come off like she is a "nun" admonishing us, with her I know what's best attitude?

    Is it just me?

    February 24, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  13. democrat_2008

    If Obama wins the democratic nomination I will vote for Nadar.

    February 24, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  14. stevie

    I think everyone is finally seeing through this woman and her powerful connection. It gives me great optimism to see the American people making a clear and decisive decision against her. Go Obama!

    February 24, 2008 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  15. jd

    Moreover, it shows that much of the Clinton mystique (good or bad) is Bill Clinton. Without the 'Clinton' name-tag, she wouldn't have a prayer of a chance in politics. It's easier to reign in Bill during the campaign. Will it be possible to do so if she's in the WH again? The Clintons have been up to shenanigans all their political lives. It's likely that old habits die hard and they (particularly Bill) have been up to the same since their WH days. Will all that begin coming out if she becomes the nominee and is under national scrutiny? The secrecy of the Clinton WH universal health care scheme was matched by the secrecy of the Bush WH every scheme and frankly, it is likely that this secret behavior will only continue with the Clintons again.

    February 24, 2008 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  16. James

    Hilary showed up in a place where there are no votes for her. Political courage. She came to talk about issues. And her positions on those issues. The Chosen One couldn't care less. He was too busy. More and more he sounds like Elmer Gantry to me.

    February 24, 2008 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  17. CP

    Bill and Hillary both have spent their entire adult lives helping all people and working for justice and opportunities for everyone no matter the color of their skin. But that apparently doesn't matter to 90% of African-Americans who give their votes to a man whom we know next to nothing about and they SAY it's because he shares a skin pigment with them.

    I don't think that was the dream Dr. King talked about.

    February 24, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  18. Bprod

    A word used in the article, "handedly" does not exist. Someone should check these things.

    February 24, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  19. Curliss

    Forgiveness is the key to success and a good life. Some people learn it...some don't. The don'ts normally have a bad outlook on life...because they haven't learn how to forgive earlier in thier lives. Go Hillary!

    February 24, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  20. Maria

    How true! How true! Hillary just go away!

    February 24, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  21. Sean from Canada

    There is racism, sexism and ageism running rampant in this campaign.
    FROM ALL SIDES !!!!!
    That is human nature.... Differences are the first thing to separate us...
    When it comes down to the nitty gritty...Bill Clinton has done a lot for the black community. It is amazing how they are ready to hang him for making one remark. He is the one who should be mad for everyone he helped who now turns their back on him.
    Get real people.

    February 24, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  22. Dan

    This is very important for Hillary, but not as a presidential candidate. Voting in Louisiana is done, she has no reason to be there, except for the fact that she honestly and genuinely cares about minorities.
    People are saying that this event and her rage over Obama fliers are just tactics, but in both instances, her emotions were so obvious, that I think we're seeing the real Hillary.
    I just hope its not too late for her campaign.

    February 24, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. Tom Rusert

    The Obama debate skit on SNL... presented last night, was the best picture we have had so far! Leave it to comedy to hear truth. He even has CNN sucked in. Hard questions by people or media are totally absent from these debates. If I hear one more time..."will you be ready on the first day?" I will turn to drinking. Who cares about what Bill Clinton or John McCain have to say about sex?

    Hillary has a record and probably the only record to challenge of the two candidates. Happy to see Ralph Nader back in the mix!!!! Never thought I would say that. This country needs to get out of the malls and get real about words. Where were all the young people when we went into this war? In the malls? In their iPods? Why Obama does not address to his own people speaks volumes! I would love to see Ralph in Ohio at the next debate so democrats get their head out of the sand. What a mess with all this "happy hoping". tor

    February 24, 2008 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. John Keyser

    She is a stronger candidate, wiser, more experienced, and has much
    more substance than her rival.

    February 24, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  25. Jen

    Hillary's so desperate to win that she'll do anything now. Too late...Obama will be our next President.

    February 24, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
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