I applaud Jimmy Carter for speaking his mind this week about the role of race in some of the disturbing, extremist reactions to President Barack Obama recently. Carter made his comments after US Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst in the middle of Obama's recent health care speech to a joint session of the US Congress. Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shouted "You lie" at Obama, jarring his colleagues and those of us watching on television. Wilson's behavior was VERY unusual, and, it followed, in disturbing fashion, a summer when Obama's appearances had attracted a variety of other negative, occasionally bizarre responses from some individuals in his audiences.
"I think it's based on racism," Carter said, in reply to a question during an event at his Carter Center in Atlanta. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."
Carter also said that Wilson's outburst was part of a troubling trend of harsh criticisms directed at Obama by demonstrators - including individuals who have compared Obama to Nazi leaders.
"Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care," Carter said. "It's deeper than that."
Carter said what many US senators and Representatives are afraid to say. In fact, afterward, a few Democrats went out of their way to distance themselves immediately from the former president's comments. Those Democratic politicians quoted were totally unconvincing in trying to claim anti-Obama reactions were innocent and issue-driven.
It seems fairly obvious there is "an element" of Obama critics who are motivated by race. I wish more of our elected leaders - Republicans and Democrats - were willing to identify these individuals for who they are. It'd be nice if they had the courage and principle to complain about racist comments or behavior. Instead, most politicians these days avoid any sensitive issues -- so, I guess it's unsurprising they're silent about racism.
Well, I'm tired of it. I wish more people would follow Jimmy Carter's lead. Why the hell were some white individuals showing up with deplorable, hateful messages on posters at some Obama events on health care this summer? Why are right-wing, reckless, obnoxious radio and
television talk show hosts so harshly and crudely ripping President Obama non-stop -- no matter what he's actually doing in office?
We are living in a strange time when it comes to what's tolerated or not. (I wrote about this last week). I criticized TV reactionary Glenn Beck, who had called President Obama " a racist" on a television talk show. Well, this week, Time Magazine decided to put Glenn Beck on its cover. Typical. Today's media organizations - like Time - make their decisions on the entertainment level or ratings potential of a topic rather than whether it's newsworthy, in context or deserves attention at all. Beck does NOT deserve any attention - or, a talk show.
My reaction, when I heard of former President Carter's quote was: "It's about time someone of stature spoke up about this."
I understand that Obama and his advisors do not want to raise the issue of race. Imagine if Obama, himself, argued that racism was a factor in his struggle to increase support for one of his positions or actions. He'd receive overwhelming criticism. HOWEVER, I do not accept the silence of everyone else, particularly elected officials and those with influence and power in all sectors of society who could impact the dialogue on race relations.
I was glad to read a terrific Sept. 13th piece by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who ripped into US Rep. Joe Wilson for his outburst during Obama's speech. Dowd, like Jimmy Carter, waded right into the topic of race, and, took it further by raising questions about Wilson's possible motivations and his record on race-related matters.
Consider this excerpt from Dowd's column:
"...The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina's state Capitol and denounced as a "smear" the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the '48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."
Then, Dowd commented further:
"I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer -- the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids -- had much to do with race........But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted "liar" at W. when he was hawking a false case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it....."
Dowd is right on the money. I wish it weren't so, but, I feel that in the past couple of months, we're seeing some more blatant signs of racism against Obama. You can see it in the surprising disgust or venom that shows up in negative comments of Obama critics.
The recent racial dynamics confronting Obama remind me of the obstacles he overcame during the 2008 presidential campaign. I still believe people have overlooked the extent to which Obama had to rise above the constant presence of racism in both the primary and general election campaign. I recall - during Obama's battle vs. Hillary Clinton - how Bill Clinton was often assigned to campaign aggressively for white votes in little rural towns of certain states where racism remained a large factor. I recall how, in my home state of Massachusetts, Hillary won overwhelming margins of victory against Obama in many medium-sized, blue-collar cities where one would have expected Obama to do much better. Race was an important factor, in my view. Then, of course, there were Democratic primaries in states like Kentucky and West Virgina - where Hillary was ahead by 30 points weeks before the event, remained ahead by that margin, and, then, won by the same whopping margin. Many voters there, clearly, had made up their minds about Obama and were not predisposed to change. I wonder why.
And, who can forget some of the despicable tactics used by John McCain and Sarah Palin in the general election campaign against Obama. I can recall Palin, a hopeless candidate who deserved far tougher scrutiny of her own record, trying in repeated appearances, to portray Obama as "an outsider" who couldn't be trusted. Indeed, though I expected even worse, McCain and Palin did little to avoid rhetoric that stirred anxieties about race.
As I observe Obama's presidency, I will never forget the obstacles he overcame to win the election. I still believe that many Americans give him a smaller margin for error as President because he is black. Obama faces more challenges and constraints all the time due to his race. Let's hope that when a minority of his critics display racial prejudice, that others will speak up - like Jimmy Carter did - and help discourage others from doing the same thing.
I post opinions at least once a week here. Often I write about politics or media coverage of politics -- two subjects I have followed closely for more than 30 years.