Very pointed words from a still uncommitted superdelegate who is the third-ranking House Democrat.
The third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and one of the country’s most influential African-America leaders sharply criticized former President Bill Clinton this afternoon for what he called the former president’s “bizarre” conduct during the Democratic primary campaign.
Representative James E. Clyburn, an undeclared superdelegate from South Carolina who is the Democratic whip in the House, said that “black people are incensed over all of this,” referring to a series of statements that Mr. Clinton has made in the course of the heated race between his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama.
Mr. Clinton was widely criticized by black leaders after he equated the eventual victory of Mr. Obama in South Carolina in January to that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 – a parallel that many took as an attempt to diminish Mr. Obama’s success in the campaign. In a radio interview in Philadelphia Monday, Mr. Clinton defended his remarks and said the Obama campaign had “played the race card on me” by making an issue of those comments.
In an interview with The Times late Thursday, Mr. Clyburn said that Mr. Clinton’s conduct in this campaign has caused what might be an irreparable breach between Mr. Clinton and an African-American constituency that once revered him. “When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar,” Mr. Clyburn said. “I think black folks feel strongly that that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation.”
Mr. Clyburn added that there appears to be an almost “unanimous” view among African-Americans that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton “are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win.”
Mr. Clyburn was heavily courted by both campaigns before South Carolina’s primary in January. But he stayed neutral, and continues to, vowing that he would not say or do anything that might influence the outcome of the race. He said he remains officially uncommitted as a superdelegate and has no immediate plans to endorse either candidate.
At one point before the South Carolina primary, Mr. Clyburn publicly urged Mr. Clinton to “chill a little bit.”
Asked Thursday whether the former president heeded his advice, Mr. Clyburn said “Yeh, for three or four weeks or so. Or maybe three or four days.”