Civil rights activist Al Sharpton on Thursday took Sen. Joe Biden to task for calling Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama "articulate" and "clean," questioning how the description reflects on other blacks.
Biden, still trying to deal with the fallout from his remarks, spoke by telephone on Sharpton's radio show. The Delaware lawmaker spent his first day as an official presidential candidate Wednesday explaining his statement that Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean."
Biden told Sharpton he regretted the comments and said he hadn't meant to disparage other blacks who had run for president in the past, including Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the late New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.
But Sharpton told Biden: "A lot of people took it from you that because (Obama) is Harvard-trained, that people don't see someone as good and clean unless they are less connected to the struggle of the African-American community."
Sharpton also compared the gaffe to former Virginia Sen. George Allen's use of a racial slur against an Indian-American man last summer - a controversy that was widely believed to have cost Allen re-election.
"George Allen got 'macaca' - this might be a step past that," Sharpton warned.
Biden responded by lavishing praise on Sharpton, saying he and Jackson were the most articulate people in the country.
"I have overwhelming respect for what you did. I have an overwhelming respect for what Jesse did, and what Shirley Chisholm did," Biden told Sharpton. "I didn't know anyone tougher or straighter than Shirley Chisholm. I worked with her, I knew her."
The two men agreed that the best way for Biden to make up for his remarks was to stress issues of concern to the black community in his campaign, such as poverty eradication and speeding up the rebuilding of storm-ravaged New Orleans.
Sharpton, who ran a long-shot but spirited campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2004, is considering running again this time. He met last week in Washington with Biden and several other candidates, including Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Chris Dodd, to determine whether they would sufficiently commit to urban issues.
Biden's interview was reminiscent of Sen. Trent Lott's 2002 appearance on Black Entertainment Television, where he apologized for praising Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist. Lott subsequently stepped down from Senate leadership.