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'I am not a racist,' ex-President Bill Clinton asserts

August 5, 2008 |  3:54 am

Former presidents get a whole lot of leeway in what they say in public. But former President Bill Clinton just violated one of the prime rules of political communications: Never say what you are not.

"I am not a crook," said Richard Nixon, which, of course, raised or confirmed the issue in the minds of millions during the long-running Watergate scandal that forced him from office. And provided a historic sound bite.

Clinton, who is supposed to be a major surrogate campaigner for Barack Obama this fall and speak at the DemocratEx-president Bill Clinton and his wife Senator Hillary Clinton during her recent unsuccessful presidential primary campaignic National Convention later this month, gave a fascinating and revealing exclusive interview to ABC News in Monrovia, Liberia, over the weekend.

Under some prodding and questioning, he showed an edginess that belied his denial of holding any anger about anything.

His jaw, his body language and lack of that warm, winning campaign smile added to the impression. Clinton spoke about several things, including his role in his wife's presidential primary campaign and what he regretted about it.

Asked if Obama was ready to become president, a readiness point Hillary Clinton hammered hard throughout the campaign, Bill Clinton clearly dodged the question, saying he doubted....

... anyone was ever ready for that job, that he had learned a few things in his early White House weeks in 1993.

Then he added, Obama "is smarter than a whip, so there's nothing he can't learn."

Asked about regrets over his sometimes polarizing role in his wife's unsuccessful campaign, he first said he wasn't going to talk about it, then proceeded to do so. "I got bad press," Clinton said. "Why? Because I told the truth that there was a different standard applied to the finest candidate I ever supported."

Asked specifically about his role in Sen. Clinton's campaign, he suggested the media check the voting results where he had campaigned in places like South Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, implying the results were positive for her where he had campaigned.

Then he added, "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. I've never made a racist comment and I never attacked [Obama] personally."

At one point the reporter referred to Rep. James Clyburn, who remained neutral in the primary struggle before jumping to Obama. She called Clyburn a longtime friend of Clinton's. "Used to be," snapped the ex-president.

"I'm not and never was mad at Sen. Obama," Clinton told the reporter. "You know he hit her hard a couple of times and they hit us a few times a week before she ever responded in kind. The only thing I ever got mad about was people in your line of work pretending that she somehow started the negative stuff. It's a contact sport."

The interview was broadcast on "Good Morning America." You can watch the entire video here. On a scale of four, we give it three Ticket punches.

Oh, and, by the way, Politico.com reports Sen. Clinton will be flying solo -- no Barack, no Bill -- when she campaigns for Obama in Nevada on Friday.

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Associated Press

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