Democrat Hillary Clinton suggested yesterday that Barack Obama's campaign had injected racial tension into the presidential contest, saying her comments about Martin Luther King's role in the civil rights movement had been "distorted" by Obama's supporters.
"This is an unfortunate story line the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully," the former first lady said in a spirited appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race."
Clinton taped the show before campaign appearances in South Carolina, whose January 26 primary will be the first to include a significant representation of black voters. Blacks were 50 percent of primary voters in the state in 2004 and the number is expected to swell this time.
Both New York Senator Clinton and her husband, the former president, have engaged in damage control this week after black leaders criticized them for comments they made shortly before the New Hampshire primary last Tuesday.
The senator was quoted as saying King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while Bill Clinton said Illinois Senator Obama was telling a "fairy tale" about his opposition to the Iraq war.
The former president since has appeared on several black radio programs to say he was referring to Obama's record on the Iraq war, not on his effort to become the nation's first black president.
Hillary Clinton on Sunday praised King as one of the people she "admired most in the world," and suggested his record of activism stood in stark contrast to Obama's.
"Dr. King didn't just give speeches. He marched, he organized, he protested, he was gassed, he was beaten, he was jailed," she said, noting King had campaigned for Johnson because he recognized the need to elect a president who could enact civil rights into law.
Obama, for his part, called Clinton's comments "unfortunate."
"The notion that this is somehow our doing is ludicrous," he told reporters on a conference call to announce the endorsement of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. "What we saw this morning was why the American people are tired of Washington politicians and the games they play."
As evidence, Clinton aides pointed to a memo from an Obama press aide, leaked to a handful of political Web sites, compiling remarks by Clinton and some of her surrogates that appeared to be racially insensitive.
While Clinton praised Obama's eloquence and ability to deliver a soaring speech, she also stepped up her contention that his record did not match his rhetoric.
She noted that while he had spoken out eloquently against the war in 2002 before coming to the Senate, he voted repeatedly to fund the war once in office.
"If you are part of American political history, you know that speeches are essential to frame an issue, to inspire, and lift up," Clinton said. "But when the cameras are gone and when the lights are out, what happens next?" Clinton, who voted in favor of a 2002 Senate resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, tangled with moderator Tim Russert over why she voted as she did.
She reiterated her contention that she had not voted for "pre-emptive war," even though the resolution clearly gave President George W. Bush that authority.
When asked whether she or Obama had exercised better judgment about the outcome of such an invasion, Clinton bristled.
"Judgment is not a single snapshot. Judgment is what you do across the course of your life," she said.
Clinton also said she would oppose any effort to maintain a heightened troop presence in Iraq, saying any improvements to the security situation there came because the Iraqi government is anticipating a change in administration.
"Part of the reason that the Iraqis are doing anything is because they see this election happening and they know that they don't have much time," she said. "They know the blank check George Bush gave them is about to be torn up."
If elected president, she said would call on her military advisers to draw up plans to begin removing US troops from Iraq within 60 days of taking office.Reuse content