Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carter’s Racism Charge Sparks War of Words

Perhaps only Jimmy Carter has the nerve to be as blunt as this; his blunt comments on Israeli apartheid drew similarly passionate reactions.

Former President Jimmy Carter’s view that some of the recent protests against President Obama, including the “You Lie!” outburst by Representative Joe Wilson last week, are “based on racism,” has fueled a new war of words over this already charged issue.

The former president first weighed in on Tuesday during a question-and-answer session at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Mr. Carter responded to a question about Mr. Wilson’s eruption by saying that he did believe it was laced with racism. Coupling the Wilson remark with the images in recent weeks of angry demonstrators wielding signs depicting Mr. Obama as a Nazi or as Adolf Hitler, Mr. Carter said: “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

I agree with him, and not always, but I see the racism.

He lamented the tone of disrespect toward the current president, adding: “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care. It’s deeper than that.”

The rancor against the person, the fundamental questioning of his legitimacy, the labeling him a socialist, a Nazi, un-American, it all smacks of hatred of the person, and it is quite disturbing. Perhaps the rancor against Bush went too far, too, but his legitimacy wasn't questioned (other, of course, than his winning the 2000 election because of the Supreme Court's decision, itself a topic for debate).

Mr. Carter’s criticisms drew a sharp response from Michael Steele, the African-American chairman of the Republican party, who called the remarks an “outrage.” In a statement, Mr. Steele said: “President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy. This is a pathetic distraction by Democrats to shift attention away from the president’s wildly unpopular government-run health care plan that the American people simply oppose. Injecting race into the debate over critical issues facing American families doesn’t create jobs, reform our health care system or reduce the growing deficit. It only divides Americans rather than uniting us to find solutions to challenges facing our nation.”

Carter isn't wrong. It is not the ex-President who injected race into the public domain. And the President's health care plan is not "wildly unpopular" nor is it a government-run health care plan.

By stepping into the debate in such an explicit way, Mr. Carter used labels that the White House and others have clearly tried to avoid in the wake of Mr. Wilson’s remarks and last weekend’s angry demonstration on the Washington Mall. White House aides and some lawmakers had earlier deflected or dismissed questions centered on whether a racially tinged prism was underfoot, in what seemed a concerted effort to try to stay above the fray.

Above the fray? Race is a subject no one has the nerve to discuss openly, for too many people could get offended.

In a television interview on Sunday, Mr. Wilson, who was officially rebuked by the House on Tuesday, dismissed suggestions that his actions were racially motivated. One of his sons sprung to his defense after Mr. Carter’s remarks were publicized, saying his father didn’t have a “racist bone” in his body.

No one is a racist. There is no racism. We live in a racial Eden. The White House will not approach it openly, for it would be political dynamite, and would draw attention away from policies.

Other prominent officials however, like Representative James Clyburn, the Democratic majority whip from Mr. Wilson’s home state, have publicly implored the White House to directly confront what they view as an unseemly element aimed at, in Mr. Clyburn’s words “delegitimizing” the president. Don’t let it fester, he warned.

There are many people who do not accept President Obama's legitimacy, or even his citizenship. Black skin, a Muslim name.

Nearly all agree that the level of hostility aimed at Mr. Obama runs extremely high. Mr. Hoyer termed it unusually harsh. Some attribute part of the volume to the 24/7, Web-and-cable news driven world that we live in. Mr. Hoyer also noted policy divisions, including those who are also angered by how their tax dollars are being used, given the bank and auto bailouts by the government.

What would have been the alternative? And President Bush was not charged with being a socialist.

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