Bill Clinton to Ted Kennedy: In The Past, Obama Would Be ‘Carrying our Bags’

-By Warner Todd Huston

If Obama so desperately wants examples of racist rhetoric being cast against him, there’s none better than what Bill Clinton said of him only a few short years ago.

In 2008 during that contentious Democrat primary that pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, the former president was in full sales mode to get his wife the nomination of the Democrat Party and in an effort to enlist Ted Kennedy to his cause he uttered what any journalist would immediately brand as a racist remark.

Ryan Lizza reports that the late Tim Russert related a Bill Clinton anecdote that must shock anyone overly sensitive to charges of racism.

You might recall, as does Lizza, that Bill Clinton was already being accused of acting in a racist manner by discounting Obama’s primary wins that year and an incident after the South Carolina primaries figured prominently in that charge. But the former president was even more vehement in private.

Russet told Liza that Clinton was in a discussion with Senator Ted Kennedy and while attempting to cajole Kennedy into understanding that Obama was too young and inexperienced, Clinton said, “A few years ago, this guy would have been carrying our bags.”

This “carrying our bags” line could easily be read as harkening back to the days when African Americans were commonly seen as porters, baggage handlers, housekeepers, and other domestic employees.

But was it? Was it racist? I’d propose that it wasn’t and that anyone who says it is, is overly sensitive. My feeling is that Clinton wasn’t using a racial slur against Obama but instead saying that he was just a kid that doesn’t belong in the big league of politics. I think Bill Clinton was saying that Obama deserves to be in a low rung position — one such as a lackey that would be toting his betters’ bags — not in the position of running for president beside his more experienced wife.

Of course, should a Republican have uttered this line, every member of the Old Media establishment would have erupted in a cacophony of condemnation of such a “racist” remark. No context, subtext, or intent would have been sought before the attacks would have begun if a Republican had said this.

So far, though, Bill Clinton is getting a pass on a remark so easily construed as racist.
Finally, it should be noted that a similar anecdote turn up in the book Game Change a few years ago, though it was Clinton telling Kennedy that Obama would have been “getting us coffee.” I believe this new report is a garbled version of the claim in that book (or the book claim was a garbled report of this “bags” comment, either way).

So, what I am saying is that it might be apocryphal but that it is so easily believable coming from Bill Clinton says as much as if the quote(s) were 100% accurate.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

For a full bio, please CLICK HERE.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001