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. Michael

    Of course he is not and Obama is trying to label McCain the same way but it won't work because unlike the Clintons, McCain does not have to walk on eggshells given that African Americans are not a strong Republican constituency.

    August 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. stephanie

    Bill is not a racist, hi will just do or say anything to win. Andy, you can't blame Obama for what the media portrays. If you say anything about gays your homophobic, if you say anything about women your sexist. Obama is just as much white as he is black so why does the media keep this going on. This country has to always label people and then blame the person that they label. We all need to get over the childishness and get our country back.

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  3. Texun

    Eric is right on-target. There are some pluses for Bill Clinton, but he still had trouble accepting responsibility for his actions. Of course, it all depends on what one means by "accepting." He's not a racist, but he did put his foot in his mouth, big-time in South Carolina.

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  4. Puck

    We know you're not a racist, Bill.

    But, of all people, you should know how comments
    can be interprested and misconstrued – especially
    when you deliver them they way you did, and when
    you're making them in defense of your own wife.

    I don't believe you're a racist, but I think you made
    comments that were meant to demean your wife's
    rival. And when Obama's camp jumped on those
    comments, you should have respectfully apologized
    for the way they may have been taken, as opposed
    to saying that their anger at your comments were
    disrespectful to Rev. Jackson.

    I think your biggest problem is losing your temper
    when someone disagrees with you. You just have
    to chill out, Bill. You're one of the best game players
    in the world. Just because you're on the Senior Tour
    doesn't mean you need to lose your composure.

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  5. Michigan Born & Educated

    Clinton has a right to still be angry, if he is. Obama cronies Donna Brazile, James Clyburn and a whole bunch of others were wagging their fingers and flapping their jaws. I remember it well. Especially right before the North Carolina primary, they stepped up their flapping. Clinton a racist? Give us a break! AND...yeah, I will be voting for John Sydney McCain.

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  6. Barrett

    I am proud of Bill Clinton. Bill will not lie to us and say we all need to support Obama.

    Bill knows Obama is not the right man for the White House and he will not give Obama false support.

    Obama needs Bill Clinton alot more than Bill Clinton needs Obama!!

    Truth be known we need more Politicians like Bill Clinton!

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  7. Karin

    President Clinton has spent most of his political life helping the race relations in this country. In a primary campaign like the one we just experienced, many things were said and done to distort both sides' messages or comments. Barack Obama is just a slick political operator who has no right to any higher moral ground on anything. He has proven time and again that he'll throw anyone under the bus when they no longer serve his almighty goals for himself. Long before we heard of him, he was trampling on his opponents in Chicago/Illinois. The worst lately is when he canceled visiting our wounded troops on his trip abroad because his staff and media were not allowed into the hospital. How callow is that? His smug tone and attitude if anyone wants to know more or question some of his actions or motives says all I need to know. I'm 60 years old now, and I have never been more afraid of the direction our country will go as I am contemplating Barack Obama has our next President. I sincerely hope our country comes to its senses. This man is not prepared to lead the greatest country on earth.

    August 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  8. craig

    Bill Clinton is not a racist. Obama did not call him one the media put words into his mouth. How could he call the most popular president in black America racist? And, then expect his help? These are all highly educated people, even if he thought he was racist it would be of no benifit to say it in public.

    Bill Clinton did more for black people in this country than maybe Roosevelt. I am a black man that has the utmost respect for the President. When he was president it seemed that we mattered. That is all we could ask from a president.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  9. Diane

    I can't go by what he says but by what he does. Of course he's going to say he's not a racist. What moron is going to admit he's a racist. By his actions he introduced racism in the primaries, which he did because his wife wanted to win NH and SC.

    In his heart, he knows exactly what he did, and he should come begging for absolution now. He's not going to get it. His legacy has been tarnished since he chose to throw the Democratic base under th bus. Get over it Bill, you're not just a racist, but you're a loser.

    Obama 08

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  10. Not you Bill

    Bill -you helped your wife with rural vote., seniors vote, uneducated people's vote.
    You thought it was a hereditary-you , your wife and your daughter.
    It doesn't work like that in democracy.
    So you were upset.
    It is understandable.
    The best thing for you to do is to help elect your party's nominee.
    We all know you are not a racist, McCain is.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  11. Steve in Indiana

    Bill isn't just bring it up again. He is being interviewed and asked questions. Of course the media will continue to ask these questions because they like reporting that Bill got agitated. I look at his emotions as a real testiment to how much he cares about his wife. During his own campaigns and Presidency, he did very well under attack. He took Hillary's campaign more personally. As a husband, I know it it much harder for me to hear criticism of my wife then it is to hear it about myself. I have a natural urge to defend her. Sometimes that will lead to "going overboard" in doing so. Overall, Bill did a good job of advocating for his wife.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  12. Tyre

    Why make the comment if you know talking about race is a negative for Obama. Timing is everything. With a week of distractions, why continue to give it life. Not a racist, good public servant and superb politician.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. Mia, DE

    Yes, and he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.


    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  14. Jim Beam

    I don't think anyone really thinks he's a racist, but my opinion of him has taken a beating. Regardless, Bill's still the man.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. Craig

    Bill...did you not get the memo?

    If you question The Obama you must be a racist.

    The funny thing is as The Obama continues to change his policy positions he begins to reflect the positions of Bush. If the D's get their man they will get Bush's 3rd term.

    August 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  16. Crush Rush

    And Im not Mother Teresa.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  17. Kate

    " I find most racists (plantation racists) tend to be from New York and New England.) "

    Oh yes, the old "the South was never really racist, even though we had plantations" argument. Yes, there was slavery in the North. Yes, there is still housing segregation, but there is nothing like the racism of trying to keep black voters off the rolls in the South that continues to this day.

    (I've lived in the deep South and in NY).

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  18. Kansas City

    Bill Clinton has done more to help minorities than most other Presidents ever. Give me a break. He is wonderful...I wish he were running so I could vote for him again. I supported Hillary, too.

    Much ado about NOTHING.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  19. Steven

    White people who love Barack can care a less about his color.Say what you want about Obama as long as you are being honest to us and to yourself. You know deep down in your heart if you are against him because he's black. If not, don't worry about it. Let all come together....We are one.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  20. Kraig Rasool

    Bill Blinton has always been a man of his word as far as I can
    tell. He has been a president who rallied with the people on all
    levels, and contiunes to serve in many ways that isnt recognized
    by laymen. The media is the match the fuels this fire about him
    being a racist.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  21. obama mama

    After Americans elected the village idiot from Texas twice, God had to step in and He brought the most unlikely Candidate through the roughest primary season to victory. Even Bill Clinton the most popular democratic president in recent history could not derail the Obama train with his subtle racial comments.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  22. Jackie - NYC

    Bill Clinton is not a racist and Obama doesn't play the race card. The Clinton's problem is that they couldn't believe someone would dare to challenge them. They thought this was Hillary's god given right and were shocked to find out it wasn't . They were shocked to find out they weren't the leaders of the democratic party.

    As for Obama and the race card – let's be honest race is an issue here – it is an issue with a large number of voters. They can't be sure a black man can run the country. So let's stop pretending racisim doesn't exist because it does and let's stop pretending race isn't an issue in this election because it is.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  23. Kelby from Houston, TX

    Many have said before, that Bill Clinton was our first Black President. I agree. I never thought he was perfect, but he was a great president. Black people never thrived in the American economy, the way we did when he was president. His economic policies were great. He showed the benefit of a tax & spend policy. I have never believed that he was a racist.

    August 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |


    WHAT IS SAD when individuals can't own up to being racist and hide behind the "Obama lacks experience" comments and other excuses. NOW THATS SAD!!!!!

    August 4, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  25. Mike, TX

    I agree. Bill is not the racist. Obama is.

    August 4, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
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