RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The nation's first elected black governor, Virginia's L. Douglas Wilder, lambasted Vice President Joe Biden on national television Wednesday for his remark to a largely black crowd about banks keeping people "in chains."
Wilder, a Democrat and a grandson of slaves, echoed indignant denunciations from Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, that Biden's comment at a Tuesday rally in Danville, Va., injected race into the presidential contest.
In warning that the Republican ticket would roll back President Barack Obama's regulations reining in banks and investment firms after the 2008 stock market meltdown, Biden said Romney intended to "unchain Wall Street."
Then, Biden added, "they're going to put y'all back in chains."
Romney fired back Wednesday, saying Obama's re-election campaign "is all about division and attack and hatred." Obama's campaign called Romney's response "unhinged."
Wilder, known within his own party for an independent streak that sometimes borders on contrarian, was interviewed separately by Fox News and later CNN.
"Without question they were appeals to race," Wilder told CNN. "And if you don't argue with that, then you understand that, then the next question is why? Why do you feel you need to do that? But the more important thing that I got out of this was Biden separated himself from what he accused the people of doing. As a matter of fact what he said is, they are going to do something to y'all, not to me, not us. So he was still involved with that separate America. And I'm sick and tired of being considered something other than an American."
Wilder also said he doesn't believe Obama would associate himself with, nor make, the remarks that Biden made.
"The president doesn't need this now,' Wilder said. "The president needs to be a part of bringing people together.
Wilder, also a former Richmond mayor, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have made a better Obama running mate and called on Biden to "cool it, back up" and admit that he was wrong.
"If Hilary were on that ticket today, based on the job she's done as secretary of state, I think there would be a clearer advantage the president would be seeing," said Wilder, who was elected Virginia's governor in 1989 and briefly ran for president in late 1991. "It's not going to happen. It's too late. I think she'll be getting herself together for 2016."
"What the president needs to do is to disassociate himself from trying to show anybody that division is what this administration is about," Wilder told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
In an interview later with The Associated Press, Wilder said Biden's comment gratuitously preyed on emotionally freighted and painful imagery from the South's slaveholding past. Danville, once a booming textile and tobacco city on the North Carolina border, was the final seat of a collapsing Confederate government on the run, forced to flee Richmond as it fell to Union troops in 1865.
"Why did he feel the need to do that?" Wilder told the AP. "Did he feel that these people were so dumb that he had to appeal to them with something like that? You can forgive people for gaffes, but there comes a time when you realize you're forgiving the same guy for making the same mistakes."
Obama defended Biden in an interview with People magazine on Wednesday, saying the vice president's remarks meant consumers would be worse off if Republicans succeeded in doing away with new restraints on financial institutions.
"In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that," Obama said.