Joe Biden Explains His 'Clean' Obama Comment -- to Jon Stewart

09/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who can forget -- even John McCain surely remembers -- that day in January 2007 when Sen. Joseph Biden offered his infamous quip about "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He was referring to the man who is now his new boss, Barack Obama. But by now, you have surely forgotten that this took place on the very day Biden announced his race for president -- and that he happened to appear that night on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart.

There he said (as I reported at the time) that he was simply trying to be "complimentary" toward Obama, but wasn't "artful" in doing so. He told Stewart that the "word that really got me in trouble" was calling Obama "clean....I should have said fresh. What I meant was he's got new ideas."

He said he had already called Obama, to which Stewart quipped, "I bet you did." Biden then said he also called former candidates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, to which Stewart added: "And Michael Jordan?"

When Biden first appeared on stage, Stewart teased, "How's your day been?" Biden said, "It's a tough game," and crossed himself (he is Catholic).

Stewart asked if wanted to talk about his comments that day and Biden replied, "No, I don't want to talk about it," but it was hard to tell if he was joking. In any case, he had no choice.

He also stood by his comments that were harshly critical of Sen. Hillary Clinton on her Iraq politics.

Stewart reminded him that just yesterday he had told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he had learned from previous campaigns to be careful, since "words matter." Stewart said, "And then you came out with this one," quoting the lines about Obama.

Biden said the whole day was a "reminder -- 'welcome back to presidential politics.'"

Stewart advised in a whisper, "When you are about to say one of those things, take a deep breath and count to 10."

Earlier Biden had said he meant "clean as a whistle"--a phrase often used by his mother, he added.

Below, video finds Obama defending Biden on civil rights later.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq.