Obama Damps Down Racial Controversy

By Jennifer Parker

Jan 14, 2008 5:43pm

ABC News’ David Wright, Andy Fies, and Sunlen Miller Report: Sen. Barack Obama told ABC News Monday there is nothing in Sen. Hillary Clinton’s record that would give him any cause for concern about her in terms of racial politics.

Asked how Obama interpreted two recent remarks by the Clintons that prompted an angry reaction from some in the Black community, Obama sought to damp down the racial dynamics of the controversy.

Many African Americans were offended when Hillary Clinton told an interviewer in New Hampshire, "Martin Luther King’s dream became a reality when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964." 

Some say she seemed to suggest that it took a white politician to fulfill a black man’s dream.

"I don’t think it was in any way a racial comment," Obama told ABC News.  "That’s something that has played out in the press.  That’s not my view."

But, he said, the comment was revealing about her political character.  "I do think it was indicative of the perspective that she brings, which is that what happens in Washington is more important than what happens outside of Washington," he said.

He said he believes the quote betrays a belief on her part, "that the intricacies of the legislative process were somehow more significant than when ordinary people rise up and march and go to jail and fight for justice." 

He called that a "fundamental difference" between them.

Former President Bill Clinton also offended some African Americans when, addressing Dartmouth College students, he referred to Obama’s campaign as "the biggest fairy tale" he’d ever seen.

Did Obama feel dissed? He laughed and shook his head. 

But, again, Obama looked past the racial controversy.

Instead, Obama directed his response to the dispute over whether opposition to the Iraq War was consistent.  (Clinton has since reiterated that is what he meant when he invoked the "fairy tale" line.)

"Both he and Sen. Clinton have been spending a lot of time over the past month trying to run down my record," Obama said.  "What particularly distresses me is this notion that I wasn’t against the war from the start.

"This is coming from a former president who suggests that he was and nobody can find any record of it," he said.

On Monday evening, Obama called a news conference to second these points, noting he is: "concerned about the tenor of the race in these past few days," and stressing that he, former Sen. John Edwards, and Clinton all share the same goals when it comes to civil rights and equal justice issues.

The controversy shows no signs of abating. Former President Bill Clinton will be on Al Sharpton’s radio show for a full hour Tuesday afternoon.

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