Harry Smith: Did Bill Clinton Defraud African-Americans on Race?

Harry Smith won't be up on the platform with Ted Kennedy today endorsing Barack Obama. But he might be there in spirit, after having absolutely unloaded on Bill Clinton's on this morning's Early Show. The CBS anchor made the stunning suggestion that when it comes to matters racial, Bill Clinton may have perpetrated a fraud on African-Americans.

Smith's guest was "diversity expert" Joe Watson and you might have expected Watson [who FWIW impressed me favorably] to carry the anti-Bill ball. But ultimately it was Smith who offered the single most damning suggestion. The CBS host began by playing the clip of Bill's by-now infamous words from the weekend, writing off the Obama victory in South Carolina by pointing out that Jesse Jackson had won there twice in the 80s.

View video here.

After Watson dismissed the notion that Clinton's words were accidental, Smith chimed in to poo-poo Hillary's excuse that Bill's comments were the result of "sleep deprivation," then added . . .

HARRY SMITH: These words are fraught. These words are rated. These words, as you suggest, are not accidental. By invoking Jesse Jackson, what is Bill Clinton saying?

JOE WATSON: Well it's imagery, it's any time that we do these things, Nadia Comaneci [??], Michael Jordan. As soon as we say those words, images pop into your mind. The hope of course is that things will link together. And when you do that, Jesse Jackson causes a visceral reaction in many portions of our population. Many folks within the campaign I imagine would hope that it would be negative. And by creating that linkage, somehow you would derail the efforts of Senator Obama.

That's when Smith offered what amounted to a stunning indictment of the former president.

SMITH: Through all of this talk, I mean [holding up the front page of today's NY Post with its blaring headline "Wild Bill] look at this, there's all this talk within the Clinton campaign of trying to rein in the former president. Does Bill Clinton send a message to African-Americans that he may not be who they thought he was?

WATSON: Here's what's really telling, when you think about this. The African-American talk radio, all the conversations have been ablaze with thoughts and commentary around this issue. And when you come out and make a comment about Jesse Jackson, you essentially pour gasoline onto a fire. Now think about that. If you send that kind of signal, what you're really saying is, "we got sub-20% [of the black vote], maybe we can't compete for this demographic anymore, and we've got to compete for a different set of demographics."

Bill Clinton may not be who African-Americans thought he was? Hard to read that other than as Smith suggesting that Bill Clinton has defrauded blacks [and all Americans for that matter] on race.

Update 9:15 AM: Carville's Cajun Chutzpah

Over on Good Morning America, James Carville had whatever the Cajun equivalent of chutzpah is to claim that Bill Clinton hadn't "meant it in that way at all" in comparing Obama's SC win to Jesse Jackson.

View video here.

JAMES CARVILLE: I don't think he meant anything other than it just being an analysis, you know President Clinton has a long --

DIANE SAWYER: You wish he hadn't done it?

CARVILLE: They have a long history of being pro-civil rights in Arkansas, which is not the easiest place in the world. Her support from the African-American community in Arkansas and New York is literally overwhelming. I think he was trying to make a political point here. And I can see why people would interpret it another way. I don't think he meant it in that way at all. There's nothing in President Clinton's history to suggest that.

Actually, there's everything in President Clinton's history to suggest that he'll say whatever it takes.

Race Issues Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential Racism CBS Early Show Video Joe Watson