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. Jim

    This is an outrage

    August 4, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  2. Joe

    Bill is NOT a racist. He's one of the most charitable and giving person's out there with his fame and fortune. He's in Africa right now helping those people get the basic necessities in life. His entire public life has been about helping those less fortunate. How is he racist?? The 90's were great and that's how people will remember Bill. Great economy and great foreign relations. Something we could use now!!!

    August 4, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  3. PUMA 4 HILL

    And CNN... you are toooo much! This is a repeated article from two months ago and you just put it in here like it's new.

    I want accurate reporting, unbiased reporting with facts and that is all I want from you CNN. Too bad you are as bad as NBC, you just make it look like you are being fair and impartial but only the real dummies fall for it.

    Disgraceful... you have your puppet who happens to receive large donations from your corporate Turner and you are forced to choose a side..... should be ashamed.

    August 4, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  4. jesse

    sen. Obama do not let sen.McCain get into trading attack ads,with keep talking about gas,housing,educ,jobs, war ect. he don't want to talk about those things.he gets you to come down to his level the better his chances are.but you stay above all that.and fly like an egile in a space where no one can touch you.

    August 4, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  5. Another grumpy old white woman for Obama

    No, he did not play the race card (whatever that is) but Hillary played the sex card, the "muslim" card, the "religion" card and told bald face lies about her "experience". She played the "good old boy card" (chugging booze in Cuban bars.) She failed by trying to be "macho" and ended up being shrill and whiney. She thought she could buy herself a Presidency and mismanaged her campaign funds. Both Clintons are still behaving like spoiled children. Bill should be here supporting the Democratic agenda along with Hillary. They are still holding their support hostage to repay her debts. Once paid, you can bet they will not be heard from.
    Her attitude is reflected by her die hard supporters.

    August 4, 2008 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  6. PUMA-Jessie

    This past week alone should conviince some of you rabid Obama supporters of who really started the racial issue, it was not President Clinton, but Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post who is also a AA and from there the Obama supporters and surrogates picked it up to destroy the Clinton support in South Carolina. We now have the June and past weeks remarks about looks on the dollar bills. Race should have no part in any election campaign as it should be the person and his policies that should control your decisions. That also applies to gender and political parties.

    August 4, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  7. ERICA, Ohio


    August 4, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  8. Kevin from NC

    Also, he didn't have sexual relation(s) with that WOMAN!

    August 4, 2008 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  9. McCrazy

    By Obama logic, any black person who doesnt support McCain is also racist. It is amazing how quickly people forget what Bill Clinton did for them, just because someone pops up with their skin color. He will do nothing to help "his people", and they will turn on him.

    August 4, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  10. Joe

    Anybody who knows anything about Bill and Hillary Clinton know that they are committed to the empowering all people, and I think that it is ridiculous that the media continues to make such a big deal out of this that the former President felt it was even necessary to make the comment. I'm an Obama supporter, have been from the very beginning. Being pro-Obama did not make me anti-Clinton anymore than being pro-Clinton should translate into be anti-Obama. If your candidate choice was based upon the issues (which it should be), they are basically interchangeable.

    Obviously, President Clinton supported his wife and it was a fiercely competitive race. It is over now. Senator Obama is the party's nominee and time for everyone (INCLUDING THE MEDIA) to move on.

    August 4, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  11. Clinton/McCain

    Obama is the Race Man. He injected race multiple times during the primary especially when the prospects of him winning were not good. That's called desperation.

    August 4, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  12. Jane

    Great timing Bill.

    Hey, weren't you and Hillary suposed to be out CAMPAINING to help the Democrats and Obama win???

    Hillary at least promised to do so. But I don't see much effort.

    August 4, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  13. Robert NYC & Miami

    Mr. President, stop clarifying to the press or to the Obanists. If you dare to say anything against Obama, they'll make you out to be "something".

    I am with you. Hillary was the best choice to run against the republicans. We will soson find out the mistake we've made in choosing Obo.

    Don't blame me, I voted for Hillary!

    August 4, 2008 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  14. jo

    I don't think Bill Clinton is a racist, but may be capable of using race to scare voters, which is exactly what I have seen the Republicans do for a long time. That comment about Jesse Jackson certainly sounded like that to me. If, taken in its larger context, it does not, I would like to see the larger context and make that judgement for myself. As a long time Democrat who originally chose this party because of its stand on civil rights, I was certainly disappointed in some of the tactics of the Clinton campaign, and that had nothing to do with what the Obama campaign did.

    August 4, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  15. Senior female

    To us REAL Democrats Bill Clinton IS the Democrat Party. To use him the way Obama has is so far from what this party is about that many of us have left the Party and are now registered Independents.

    Obama is using race to try to deflect ANY criticism no matter what it is. I heard Bob Herbert try to twist and turn through a maze of rhetoric this morning on Morning Joe to make the Britiney/Paris ad racist by saying the Washingon Monument was a clear phallyc symbol harking back to the old fear of racial intermixing. How stupid is that to have to go that far to find an issue. I just about fell on the floor laughing.

    Once again, an attack on Bill Clinton is an attack on all REAL Democrats and I don't blame him for not campaigning for Obama. Clinton has more important things to do with his time.

    August 4, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |

    As an AA woman, I must say that I feel that all this stuff about Bill having to outwardley state that he is not a racist is just the type of stuff that the republicans love. This is ludicrous to try to accuse him of being a racist and just one big distraction to cause discord among democrats.

    From my knowledge, Blacks love Bill Clinton and will always respect him for how he has contributed to the country and some of the AA causes. Also, even though EVERYONE knows that he's not racist, now he's feeling so inclined to state it for fear of backlash by the black community, but also because of all of this hype about it that really arose from the media's perception of his comments.

    All I can say is that all of this talk is just divisive and hurtful to the democratic family. If this continues, Obama is guaranteed to lose the election. There's just too much of this trivialization of the issues and too much emphasis on gaffes, cultural differences, race, religion, and petty nonsense.

    It is very sad that for the first AA to run for presidency of the US that the central focus is about him is the color of his skin and not the issues affecting this nation.

    August 4, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  17. Peggy B

    Why is he speaking again – now? Bill is worried about being called a racist – what about an adulterer, liar, etc. Which will keep his soul out of heaven? What Bill cannot accept is that Black Americans finally woke up from their slave mentality when it came to the Clintons, especially Bill. He has no base outside of Black Americans. He was considered a messiah by many standards. I'm black and turned a blind eye to many of Bill's transgressions but I along w/many of my friends, have seen the light. Politics is dirty and Bill is one of the most skilled (as many have described) pols around. He cannot stand being in the background – it is all about him and no one else. Everyone has a little bit of racism in them and sometimes it is not always the words used but the way you use them. Good grief, who cares if Jesse thinks his words were wrong. Jesse has his own problems with words and no one wants to hear from him again. Get over yourself Bill. If Barack happens to win and I hope he does, enjoy your retirement. You can't be at the top all of the time or is the problem Barack is black? To be real, many white people are having trouble w/the fact a black person, even if mixed, may be held in the highest regard by all around the US and the world. Are we so low on the food chain that we too should be able to lead this Country? Maybe the word racist should not be used, but the need to look inwards and deal w/our own personal prejudices. We need to start dealing with race period. This country is changing.

    August 4, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  18. Lola

    If you don't vote for Obama you are automatically racist! If you make any comment at all about him, you are racist! so who cares what Obama supporters are saying????? I don't!

    Bill, millions are still with you, Obama sucks and most of us know that!

    August 4, 2008 10:12 am at 10:12 am |

    I am suprised by the number of comments asking why Mr Clinton brought this up?? The Comment is frequently still in the news, and Mr Clinton was asked about things he had said.

    Why can't some of us have serious questions about Mr Obama's experience, and voting records without pundits, and the Obama campaign labeling every comment as racist. How is it possible with Mr Clinton's record that anyone could ever have thought he was a racist.

    I never thought I would agree with Mr McCain, but seeing racism where it doesn't exist doesn't speak well of the Obama's or their campaign.

    August 4, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |

    OH Henry,

    I think you are talking about South Carolina. The only thing Bill Clinton is guilty of doing is marginalizing Obama's win there.

    Blacks were looking for a reason to vote for Obama 90% after Oprah gave her blessing.

    Guess what, I don't let celebrities decide who I am voting for. You should do the same.

    Country before Party, Still for Hill, but voting McCain.

    August 4, 2008 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  21. Jane

    I always thought Bill C. was being cynical more thn racist. Personally he is not a racist, but he thought some racist stereotyping could help, so used it. Bill always had a good raport wih the black community.

    Sort of like McCain is doing now. Although McCain might personally be a racist, since he was against the MLK holdiay, voted against most civil right legislation, and even used the word "g**k" numerous times to describe Asian people. I think McCain is more of the much older and much more older generation.

    August 4, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  22. Andrew in VA

    Bill may not be a racist at heart, but when someone gets in the way of his or Hillary's personal ambitions, no tactic is off the table no matter how low–including using racism. Hillary's primary campaign demonstrated the Clintons' modus operandi–the ends justify the means–and Bill was right in the middle of it all. Sorry, Bill and Hillary, but you brought it upon yourselves. Time to get off the stage for good.

    Obama '08

    August 4, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  23. G-Man

    Who would have thought that we'd ever see the day that Bill Clinton (of all people) would have to defend himself against claims of being racist!

    It's pretty silly...

    I'm an Obama supporter, but this whole issue of any time a white person says anything remotely negative about a person who happens to be black– 'oh, then it must be racist'– needs to stop.

    August 4, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  24. dee

    I love the Clintons. No, Bill is not a racist. and I think it will do him good to see that the vast majority of the American People do not think so either. I think his biggest regret is he could not help his wife achieve what she wanted most in the world, the Presidency.
    Hillary is brilliant and would have made an excellent, excellent President.
    However, it was not her time.
    It is Barack´s time. As it once was JFKs time, or Washingtons time or Lincolns time.

    What I do not want to see happening is the GOP jump on Bill´s words and use them to their advantage. I see some of the GOP commenters already doing this in this comment section. More swiftboating by the bad guys!

    I think Bill will get over his regrets soon and board the Obama Presidential Campaign wagon. That will show the GOP swift boaters!

    August 4, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  25. NoMcSame(NoMrBurns)

    Bill may not be a racist but he played the race card. You know, the he aint one of us cards the they sometimes play. Mcsame(McBurns) is doing the same thing. Bill said personal things about Obama and they are all on tape so he can't lie about that. We all know that Bill can lie with a poker face so if you really want to know for yourself you would best go on Utube to find out.
    Obama 08 The American Dream

    August 4, 2008 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
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