Biden White House Run Begins with 'Regrets'
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Juan Williams joins us now. And Juan, what did he say that got him in hot water, like, immediately?
JUAN WILLIAMS: His remarks seem to suggest that past black candidates for the presidency - Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley-Braun, Al Sharpton, Republican Alan Keyes - were not only inarticulate, but also less than clean. That prompted Biden to call Obama and apologize, and later he issued statements of regret. It was a very rough start to his presidential campaign.
MONTAGNE: Now I gather Senator Obama reacted initially in a low-key way.
WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson said that Biden was guilty of blabbering, and noted that in a 1988 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Jesse Jackson had a campaign that lasted longer and attracted more votes than Senator Biden. But the best retort, I think, Renee, came from Al Sharpton, who said that he takes a bath every day.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WILLIAMS: OK, in his effort to fix this, I guess, Senator Biden was on "The Daily Show" and did talk to Jon Stewart last night about his comments.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE DAILY SHOW" BROADCAST)
JOE BIDEN: What I was attempting to be was - not very artfully - was complimentary. This is an incredible guy. This is a phenomenon. This guy is - and look, the other part of this thing is the word that got me in trouble is using the word clean. I should have said fresh. What I meant is he's got new ideas; he's a new guy on the block.
JON STEWART: I'm going to help you out. Let me help you out.
MONTAGNE: Juan, Joe Biden got into trouble just a few years ago with some comments about Indian Americans.
WILLIAMS: That's right, Renee. He offended Indian immigrants when he said, and here I quoting, "you can't go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." End quote. And of course he had a major problem back in 1988 when he was found abusing the rhetoric and even parts of the life story of a British politician.
MONTAGNE: Beyond this current, apparently unintended insult, is there a deeper significance to this?
WILLIAMS: I think there is, Renee. You know, this is the first time we've had a black person and a woman as any American party's leading candidates. Twenty years ago, Jesse Jackson was running for president, but that was treated as an oddity. Senator Obama is a mainstream candidate and he's a star. And in fact the biggest political engine running right now belongs to a woman, Hillary Clinton. You know, there's a transition taking place in American demographics with more minorities and immigrants, and I think the transition is also reflected in now national politics.
MONTAGNE: Well, just very briefly, Senator Biden is in a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls. What does this do for his chances?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think he's a second-tier candidate at the moment. But he has strong credentials, so don't be fooled by this stumble out of the gate, as you described it. He's a six-term senator. He voted to authorize military intervention in Iraq, but, you know, he's also co-sponsor of the key resolution this week opposing President Bush's surge into Iraq. I think that he has a serious candidacy and a way to go.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.
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