Bill Clinton on Race and the '08 Race

Former President Bill Clinton traded sharp words with a television reporter in Charleston, S.C., today, claiming that stories about voters being turned off by his recent rhetoric and stories about racial issues entering this presidential contest are purely media driven.

At one point the former president reprimanded CNN reporter Jessica Yellin, saying: "This is almost like once you accuse someone of racism and bigotry, the facts become irrelevant. The first thing I'd like to say: You asked me about this. Not one single solitary citizen asked about any of this, and they never do."

Actually, that's not true.

Clinton was asked late today in rural Kingstree, S.C., about Sen. Barack Obama and how race is factoring into this campaign.


"You sound very polite talking about Obama," the voter began. "And I know we don't want anymore negative campaigning. But black America is voting for Obama simply because he is black. Obama is being elected by Republicans pretending to be Democrats, because they know that they are not ready to vote for a black president. So if Hillary loses now, a Republican is back in, and I don't care how bad they done."

"We do need Hillary back in, because she would be the president she would be the best candidate. And I would love to see a black president, not that he can't do a good job, but America still has racist problems and that is not going away. Let's hope that Hillary wins this election," the man said.

Clinton answered: "As an American, I hope you are not right. Considering the comments the Obama camp has been making the last couple of days, I should be the last person to be defending them. If he wins this nomination, I am going to do what I can to help him win this election.

"I just believe Hillary would be a better president right now because she has a better record. I regret the acrimony in the past few days. I think we should be able to disagree with each other with being accused of the things we have been accused of. We are trying to set up an America where no one votes against you cause of race or gender."

'I'm Not Standing in His Way'

Just last night in Greenville, S.C., Bill Clinton got three questions from the audience that had to do with Sen. Barack Obama.

One question was race related. Voter Chris Busby stood and asked: "A lot of us believe that Sen. Obama eventually will be the first black president. Are you going to be OK with having stood in his way? And do you think that will affect your legacy among the blacks here in South Carolina?"

"Yes and no," Clinton answered. "I'm OK, because I'm not standing in his way. I think Hillary would be a better president."

At a diner in Columbia earlier Tuesday, a voter asked Clinton about the nasty tone of the political discussion of late.

Sometimes voters, too, blame the media for creating the story. But they do ask about it.

That happened on Jan. 15 in Las Vegas.

That happened last Sunday in Buffalo, New York.

Today in Charleston, a woman asked Clinton what he would tell young people who have gotten caught up in this "media frenzy" over race.

In his answer, Clinton said he didn't think you could really blame the media for the story.

"What I would say you should say to young people is, an election is a contest and people who run against each other, honestly believe they should win. When they have a disagreement or when you try to state a fact it is wrong to accuse someone who has a difference with Sen. Obama of being a racist or someone who has a difference with Sen. Clinton of being a sexist," he said.

"This is what we have been living for; some of us for our whole lives waiting for the day when we can freely support whomever we like. And Hillary has been blessed in South Carolina to have African-American supporters, and that doesn't mean you are against Obama. Most of the white people who are supporting Hillary like Obama.

"Now I don't think you can blame the media for this exactly. They are just on tippy-toes because they've never been here before and nobody expected both things to happen at once. It is like, oh my God, why do I have to think about this? Don't make me deal with this. There are people who are laughing because they have been through this. It is almost like an embarrassment of riches. It is like couldn't we have done this in some order? But it didn't work out that way."