August 4th, 2008
12:10 PM ET
15 years ago

Bill Clinton: 'I am not a racist'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Former President Clinton, seated next to his daughter and his mother-in-law, at times appeared emotional as he watched Sen. Clinton deliver her concession speech in June."]
(CNN) - Former President Bill Clinton said Monday that he regrets some of his controversial primary season comments, telling an interview that he is “not a racist.”

Clinton addressed some of the frenzy over his comments about his wife Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival, presumptive party nominee Barack Obama, following the Illinois senator’s win in January’s South Carolina primary.

The former president, who appeared to grow agitated at times during one of his first interviews since his wife ended her active campaign for the presidential nomination in June, was asked by in the ABC interview if he was at least partly to blame for the New York senator’s loss, and if he personally had any regrets.

"Yes, but not the ones you think. And it would be counterproductive for me to talk about," said Clinton, adding that "there are things that I wish I'd urged her to do. Things I wish I'd said. Things I wish I hadn't said.

"But I am not a racist," he continued. "I've never made a racist comment and I never attacked him [Obama] personally."

Clinton’s comparison of Obama’s South Carolina victory to those of former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson drew resentment from some in the African-American community and an apology from Hillary Clinton.

In an April interview, the former president himself said his words had been deliberately distorted by the Obama campaign. “We were talking about South Carolina political history and this was used out of context and twisted for political purposes by the Obama campaign to try to breed resentment elsewhere. And you know, do I regret saying it? No. Do I regret that it was used that way? I certainly do. But you really got to go some to try to portray me as a racist.”

He added that the way Obama’s campaign had reacted was “disrespectful to Jesse Jackson” that the former presidential candidate had told him he was not offended, and that “we all know what’s going on."

soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. S Callahan

    I don't believe Bill Clinton is racist. I do think he is a opportunist who will say, or do, anything in the hope of reaching his goal depite who it hurts along the way.

    August 4, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  2. Don't Mess with Bill

    Bill Clinton I am Not a Racist .........Bill– I love you and Hiilary always have and always will ...I know deep down in my Heart that you are not A Racist ...You know Bill during a Campaign things that you say or do are blown out of portion verse a normal day ......I don't believe Senator Obama most recent statement ...he does not look like the faces on a dollar etc was Racist ..if it had been said during a non Campaign period would have been consider as a JOKE and it depends on how the Media jumps on it ......I personally think the Cleb Ad had a racial overtone .....the Media did not see it that way it has been 4 days and the Media is still talking about the race card and Senator Obama , this morning it was discussed on Morning Joe ......make no Mistake the Majority of Us Love BILL

    August 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  3. Ron from Texas

    Yeah, right, "I've never made a rcaist comment". Like when Clinton said "I never had sex with that women....". "Never" seems to have a different meaning to the ex-pres. He and Hillary backtrack a WHOLE lot.

    August 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  4. BWM

    I don't think you are a racist Bill. I just think you could have used a better choice of words to help your wife. McCain is an in the closet racist, using code words. Many people are not smart enough to read between the lines.
    The attack on your character is indicative of the fact that you should be angry with your own people. They are the racist. Bush is untouchable, guilty of an unnessary war; yet you were crucified for something pesonal that should have been an issue with you and your family . It was the BLACKS that supported you before and after and you had to know that.

    August 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  5. Larry Clifton

    How could this man be racist? he cried when those black churches in Arkaksas burned didn't he? What? It never happened?

    August 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  6. Steve, Jacksonville Florida

    "CNN please do your job and really report both sides"

    The problem is that CNN IS doing their job which is to inrease their ratings and sell advertising. Whatever sound bites and phony controversy they can use to accomplish this is fair game. If CNN has the "best political team on television" then the state of Main Stream Media news is in a sorry state indeed. If you are truly interested in both sides, you are going to have to find it for yourself. CNN is not your source.

    August 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  7. Kimberly

    Let's be reasonable, as an African Amercian, there is no way that I believe that Bill Clinton is, was or ever will be a racist. As for President Obama using the race card, please give it a rest. This was never an issue until a person color has shown that he has the character to lead this nation back to the greatness where we belong. The repub's have done their share to ruin our reputation internationally now we need someone like Obama to build us up again!!!

    Obama 08'

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  8. Curt

    Bill Clinton is a closet racist. Always has been. The "first black president" talked a good game, but failed to deliver for African-Americans. And he has whispered more asides than Jesse Jackson ever did.

    Plus, his mouth sunk Hillary's chances early on. I can't for the life of me understand why Barack Obama would want such a hypocrite and loose cannon to campaign on his behalf.

    I'm afraid if either Clinton campaigns for Obama, we'll witness John McCain being sworn in as our next president.

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  9. Jeanie

    Anybody who thinks he's a racist is an idiot. The first thing he did after the primaries was run off to Nelson Mandela's birthday, and afterward to Africa to continue on with his battle on AIDS by his foundation. He's directly done more for the African American community than any president or even political figure from the US in recent American history.

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  10. Chris

    President Clinton graciously bit his tongue in this interview. While the reporting was not extensive, the Obama campaign went after Bill Clinton hard BEFORE the South Carolina primary vote, and created faux instances of Bill Clinton fanning racial flames. There is a strategy memo that came from the Obama campaign that attempted to tie attacks that were not necessarily race-based as racial attacks. For instance, the former NH gov's husband, Billy Shaheen, said that Obama's past drug use would be a negative in the general election. The exact same charge was used against Bill Clinton in 1992, and has been raised for other candidates. Questions of drug use are character questions historically in campaigns, yet the Obama campaign ran with it and claimed the Clinton campaign was being racist with this sort of attack. There is nothing that Bill Clinton (or Hillary Clinton) said BEFORE South Carolina voted that was racially charged (though, in my view, B. Clinton's Jesse Jackson comment was not good and did have a bit of a racial component; this of course, occurred after the vote and after the Obama campaign had already run around in SC saying B. Clinton was no friend of black voters and was racist). In fact, even if you want to believe that B. Clinton engaged in racial campaigning in SC, what would have been his incentive? The SC Democratic primary is 50-60% African-American. Why would any white candidate running against a black candidate have a strategy of fanning racial flames BEFORE a vote in which the majority of voters are African-American? Whenver race becomes a major issue, racial polarization ensues. Whichever candidate is the racial minority loses. In the case of the SC Democratic primary, the racial minority was whites and thus Clinton lost because the voting became polarized. Obama benefited handsomely – and it was good strategy on his campaign's part – by accusing B. Clinton and the H. Clinton campaign of playing the race card. Obama didn't consolidate African-American support, espeically among black women, in South Carolina until Obama's campaign began this accuse racism strategy. Even after SC, there is little incentive for the Clinton campaign or any white candidate in a Democratic primary to play the 'race card.' Look at the states voting on Super Tuesday: many of them are western or smaller caucus states where white liberals/progressives and Latinos were voting. Being labeled a racist hurts a white candidate not only with African-Americans, but also with voters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who are progressive liberals on issues of civil rights. Obama's strategy of damaging Bill Clinton by accusing him of racism and then by insulting Hillary Clinton by arguing she had done nothing on her own outside of her husband's work (ignoring 7 years in the Senate) was a disgrace. Before Obama's atrocious tactics in South Carolina, I liked him quite a bit. I would vote for him now if he apologizes for his tactics in South Carolina and Obama reaches out to Hillary Clinton and/or Bill Clinton. But otherwise, if he wants to go this alone, I'm voting for Nader or McKinney.

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  11. Norma

    Who said Bill Clinton is racist. Really you are stupid. He was a great president and did so many nice things . I really tired to hear and read about RACISM. We dont have RACISM anymore
    look aroung and shut up

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  12. Texas Trail Dog!

    Oh you OBAMA SUPPORTERS – You all make me sicK. Still calling Bill this and Bill that. you've got your man on top of the DNC's TICKET so let Bill go. He never, AND I REPEAT NEVER DID ANYTHING BAD TO ANY OF YOU, except good things for you. You want to still bring up Monica, and SC. He told the truth about the election in SC. Your good leader MATtIN LUTHER KING was OH such a saint wasn't he. The nerve of you to mention anything negative about Bill. After King's long time affair with his mistress I 'd never mention Bill again. QUIT USING THIS RACE CARD TO GET WHAT YOU WANT. IT IS NOT GOING TO WORK THIS TIME AROUND. WE THE HILLARY'S PEOPLE ARE WISE TO YOUR LYING CRAP NOW AND WE WILL NOT VOTE FOR OBAMA.

    August 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  13. R Wolf

    I think the Press is so much part of the problem this Country faces each and every day. There are so many more important questions they could ask President Clinton other than forcing a conversation where he has to qualify himself that he is not a racist. Why don't they ask McCain about his racist views? Wasn't he the one who didn't want Martin Luther King Day when he was Govenor of Arizona? Isn't he the one who continues to let millions of Americans, of all races, go without health care, lose jobs, pay tax money towards a war they are totally against, have cuts in programs and services so necessary to their health and safety, and on and on and on, while he repeats the same unrealistic and ill advised mantra of his about not raising taxes.

    August 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  14. randy

    The only Racist is Obama who is also surrounded by racist friends. He is done anyway. Bring back hilliary

    August 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  15. Denise

    Everyone who criticizes Obama is a racist, Bill. Didn't you know that?

    August 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  16. Jennifer

    Bill Clinton is not a racist! Unless of course it can aid his political agenda. What do they call that? A racist of convenience.

    August 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  17. Linda K.

    Bill is not a racist but he did get down and dirty during the primaries. Instead of fighting Obama, he should have embraced him.

    McCain has the support of GWB and his father. But a Carter endorsement would be a liability for Obama (I still don't get that and I was in college in the late 70s) and Bill Clinton chose his wife instead. Wouldn't it be great if Obama had a little more support?

    August 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  18. robert

    Bill Clinton a racist – NO WAY! The media hyped his comments up so that he and Hillary could look bad. Actually I think they still look good. I guess anyone who says anything bad about Obama is a racist. Boy, we sure better watch out if he wins the presidency. No one will EVER be able to critique his agenda. I guess that's what we get for over-protecting our savior.

    August 4, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
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