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. Ed

    It's obvious that Bill is biting his tongue in this interview. I think what he really meant to say, which would have been considered "counter-productive" was that Obama bamboozled the Clintons with the race card and that they should have fought back hard and called out Obama for the spineless flip-flopping victim that he is. I'm sure that Bill felt a great catharsis after McCain pushed back hard on Obama's sleazy race card tactics.

    August 4, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  2. JackAth

    I feel bad that Bill felt he had to say this. Most people would never think that Bill Clinton is a racist, and with good reason. His comments during the primary may have been offensive, but they were politically motivated, not racially motivated. He was simply trying to downplay the huge loss in South Carolina and prevent Obama from being seen as a major contender. I think his comments got blown out of proportion (mostly by incessant media coverage of his comments in the most negative way). Even though Obama was right to call him on what he said (From a political standpoint), its too bad that this has hurt his reputation as a truly great president.

    August 4, 2008 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. Dominique

    I don't recall anyone in the Obama campaign calling President Clinton racist. This article just proves that the former President is still in denial about the impact his actions had on his wife's campaign. It feels like he is hosting a pity party for one.

    August 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  4. Huh???

    ....and I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

    It's hard to believe much of anything from Bill.

    August 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  5. Joel-Minnesota

    Bill a racist, I don't think so. Many people in this country have a difficult time looking at the truth. Say that Obama won a primary in a heavily populated black state is not racist it's just what happened. We need more people to tell the simple truth, and we need more people to accept it with out being offended.

    August 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. Vigla

    This campaign is not about race. Let's get over it. McCain campaign's trying anything they can to distract us and bringing up race is part of the playbook. Bottom line...don't listen to them. Theor attacks are baseless and infantile.

    No, Bill is not a racist, but he believed race played a role in Obama's SC win.

    August 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  7. Wayne

    It's outrageous that Bill Clnton (of all people) has to even respond to this garbage. His work on behalf of civil rights, AIDS, and equality speak for themselves. A certain politician and his campaign actively "pushed" the racist story line about the Clintons, and we all know who that was: Obama. He was telling African American crowds in South Carolina that they were being "bamboozled", and he had his surrogates like Jesse Jackson Jr. going on about how Hillary would cry about her appearance to win a primary but wouldn't cry for the African American victims of Katrina (flat out race baiting at it's worst) and having his sleeper cell in the media Donna Brazile screaming that Bill Clinton's "tone" was somehow racist when he said that Obama's war record was a fairytale. Obama should be ashamed of what he has done to the Clintons, but he doesn't have the decency to even know it.

    August 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  8. Not necessary

    "Former President Clinton, sitted next to his daughter and his mother-in-law, at times appeared emotional as he watched Sen. Clinton deliver her concession speech in June."

    Sitted. Interesting, CNN can't have the words right nor the story right in any case. You screwed the clintons' then and are trying to scrouch up their voters now. good job.

    August 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  9. JonPeter, Hartford, CT

    Bill Clinton is not a racist, but he is a stubborn jerk who belittles everyone who disagrees with him. Bill cost HRC her shot at the nomination more than any other factor. While i think HRC would have amde a good president, the more I hear from Bill the less I want him near the white House.

    August 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. I don't like him but...

    It's a sad, sad say when a man with Bill Clinton's Civil Rights record is even questioned about whether he's a racist. This is exactly why the Democratic Party is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again – this is the level of divisiveness in the party. It's a metaphor for the scorn heaped on every Democrat who recognized Hillary as the better choice for the party's nominee.

    August 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  11. California Voter

    I don't think anyone really believed Bill or Hillary Cllinton were or are racists. Obama's surrogates and campaign folks have tried to use race to get 1) the black votes and 2) the liberal voters. By the way I think we should know by now that not all people who do not support Obama are racists - some of us are actually concerned about his positions is issues, his lack of experience, and his core values.

    August 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  12. Steve

    hhhmmmm.....lying, cheating, draft-dodging, womanizing, dope smoking, selfish, back-stabing individual? Undoubtedly so. Racist? Probably not.

    August 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  13. sandy

    He many not be a racist,but he is a sore looser. For the first time,someone outsmarted the Clinton machine, and yes, he is partly to blame for his wife's not winning the nomination. He needs to get over himself, act adult and work his heart out to get the Democrats back in office. Personally, I don't think he has that pizazzz anymore or he simply cannot stand the idea of Obama being President over Hillalry.

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

    That guy was ready to use everything to get his wife elected. Racism was O.K. as well.

    August 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  15. Concerned Citizen of America 08

    Why is this news, again? I think it's time to turn off the television set.

    August 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  16. PGraber

    What the African=Americans don't realize is that they are losing the best people who would support them in every way possible if the Clintons are not in government.

    Mr. Barack Hussein Obama is so worried about his OWN agenda, he doesn't have time for the African-Americans.

    The Clintons have always and will continue to work hard for them if they are in the governement limelight.

    August 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  17. T Guy



    August 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  18. Kevin

    Bill Clinton may not be a racist, but he sure did deliver the Black vote on a platter to Obama. He is a clever politician who thought if he gave Obama the Black vote and turned Obama into Black candidate that Jesse Jackson was, then the White vote would turn to Clinton and win her the nomination. Well unfortunately he miscalculated the genius of Obama's staff and strength of the Youth vote who are sick of this kinda strategic political crap.

    I do however think Obama's getting way too much press right now and people may end up getting sick of him by Novemeber. Let's hope not.

    OBAMA 08

    August 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  19. Shirl

    Bill Clinton is not a racist. During his presidency, he stood up for the black people. He surrounded himself and his administration with
    intelligent people of color. It is obama and his dumb supporters who are racist. ohb is not ready to lead America.

    August 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  20. Trainwreck

    If you have any criticism at all about Barak H-word "the Chosen One" Obama, you are deemed racist. This is how low we have sunk as a society with our embrace of political correctness. When the NY governor says an Obama loss will be "..a victory for racism," you know the race card is in play in this election. If a candidate is beyond reproach due to his skin color, it is the beginning of the end for this country.

    August 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  21. webster208

    It was the Obama campaign that painted Bill Clinton as a racist, and Obama's African-American followers swallowed the line because they wanted so badly for Obama to be the nominee. Obama is trying to do the same thing now, telling his supporters that his opponent is trying to scare people because he does not look like any of the past presidents – obviously because he is African-American. Fortunately, however, the gloves are off, and he could not try this trick on McCain with impunity. If Obama wants to talk about race, he should not cry "racism" when his opponents respond.

    August 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  22. Go Dems

    Go Obama!

    August 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  23. Tara

    This just cracks me up.. The Obama campaign never said he was racsists and the outrage from his Jesse jackson comment came from the Black community and pundits who took it exactly how he ment it. And at the end Hillary was all about the white Regan democrat and even ran ads to the fact.. So bill stop acting like you are the victim cause you are not. Just like you where able to spin "I did not have sexual relations with that women". knowing good and well you did, but technically you all did not have sex. So technically you didn't say anything racists but you know what was implide.

    August 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  24. Justin

    I see so many more people complaining about perceived racism and race cards, and race baiting then I see actual racism, race cards, or race baiting. I never see specifics.

    August 4, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  25. KM

    I don't think anyone thought bill was a racist, he just made some poor minded statements about Obama and dismissed him as just another aftrican american trying to make a splash in politics. If he would have just acknowledged that Obama was a good candidate he wouldn't of had any problems.

    August 4, 2008 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
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