Bill Clinton and the "race card"

Three months later, the former president accuses the Obama campaign of twisting his post-South Carolina remarks.

Published April 22, 2008 4:00PM (EDT)

It looks like Bill Clinton is still upset people thought he was trying to bring up race when he said Barack Obama -- like Jesse Jackson -- had won the South Carolina primary.

Clinton's comments on the day of the South Carolina election (way back in January) stirred up a controversy over whether Hillary Clinton's campaign was deliberately trying to make Obama "the black candidate" in the minds of white voters. Yesterday*, Clinton told Philadelphia public radio station WHYY that Obama had "played the race card on me."

"And we now know, from memos from the campaign and everything, that they planned to do it all along," the former president said. It's not entirely clear what he meant by that; he was probably referring to an internal memo showing that the Obama campaign was collecting examples of racially weighted remarks made by Clinton surrogates. But the memo didn't indicate an advance plan to highlight those remarks -- it was written after they'd already been made (though before the Jesse Jackson dispute).

The WHYY reporter had raised the issue by asking a question about it, but Clinton didn't exactly stay on message in his response. He said the Obama campaign's implication in response that Clinton was trying to marginalize the two black candidates had been disrespectful to Jackson (whom he called a friend, though he endorsed Obama). "You gotta really go something to play the race card on me, my office is in Harlem," he said. "And Harlem voted for Hillary, by the way." Apparently unaware he was still on the phone with the radio station, Clinton muttered about the question afterward to an aide, "I don't think I should take any shit on that from anybody, do you?"

Asked about Clinton's remarks during a quick campaign stop at a Pittsburgh diner, Obama laughed. "So hold on a second," Obama told reporters. "So former President Clinton dismissed my victory in South Carolina as being similar to Jesse Jackson, and he is suggesting that somehow I had something to do with it ... These are words that came out of his mouth, not mine." * corrected

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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