Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jimmy Carter: Animosity towards Barack Obama is due to racism.

I spoke yesterday about what I took from the recent comments of Mark Williams and Rush Limbaugh, and how much I felt the subject of race lay just beneath much of the criticism and animosity being expressed towards Barack Obama.

Now Jimmy Carter has thrown his hat into the ring.

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American," Carter said. The Republican party today issued a denial, saying Carter was "flat-out wrong" and that opposition was not because of Obama's skin colour but his policies.

Carter, who aired his views in a television interview and at a public meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday, is the most senior Democrat yet to voice what many in the party have been saying both in public and private after the Republican Congressman Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" during Obama's key speech on healthcare reform in Congress, after anti-government demonstrations over health that have been almost exclusively white, and after the increasingly aggressive tone on rightwing talk shows.

I am sure that some of the criticism is over policy, after all Obama is pushing universal healthcare which many Americans feel is socialised medicine, and they have been trained over the years to distrust anything to which that term can be attached.

However, when people like Williams start to claim that Obama is a racist, then it becomes impossible to deny that race is at the heart of this. Why would Williams call Obama a racist if not to imply that he is favouring one race over the other? And why would Limbaugh talk of "Obama's America" as a place where white kids get beaten up, whilst black kids cheer from the sidelines, if not to imply that one race now has a distinct advantage over the other?

Carter, interviewed by NBC to mark his 85th birthday, said: "I live in the south, and I've seen the south come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the south's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans.

"And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply."

The White House will not thank Carter for his intervention as they have sought to keep the entire subject of race out of this debate; but when people start implying that one race now has an unfair advantage over the other, as Williams and Limbaugh have done, then race is already the subject, whether the White House wants it to be or not.

Michael Steele, the African-American chairman of the Republican national committee, said that playing the race card was a pathetic distraction by the Democrats to shift attention away from his healthcare plan. Injecting race into the debate divides rather than unites Americans, he said.

"Characterising Americans' disapproval of president Obama's policies as being based on race is an outrage and a troubling sign about the lengths Democrats will go to disparage all who disagree with them," Steele said. "Playing the race card shows that Democrats are willing to deal from the bottom of the deck."

Steele is being beyond disingenuous here. It is not the Democrats who have played the race card. When Williams called Obama the "racist in chief", he was playing the race card. When Limbaugh claimed that white kids are being beaten up whilst black kids applaud, he was playing the race card. When Glenn Beck says that Obama "is a racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture", then he is undeniably playing the race card.

Steele would lead his party better were he to condemn the people currently poisoning the public debate, rather than stupidly claiming that to acknowledge what is going on is to "deal from the bottom of the deck".

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, one of the main groups in the US tracking hate groups, expressed support for Carter. Mark Potok, the director of the team investigating hate groups, said: "I think what President Carter said is precisely what is going on. I am not saying that everyone involved in opposing healthcare reform is a Klansman in disguise, but it is the elephant in the room."

His group has noted an increase in the number of hate groups, plots and racist incidents linked to Obama since he accepted the Democratic nomination to run for president last year.

This is the elephant in the room. And, just as the Republicans refuse to distance themselves from the "birthers" - because they are scared that these lunatics are the only support they have left in the country - so Steele chooses to ignore the blatant racism stemming from Limbaugh, Beck and Williams and attacks the people who point out what is going on, rather than condemn the actual offenders.

Steele is seeking to concentrate on Joe Wilson's outburst, as it is far harder to pin a motivation on why he did what he did than it is to ascribe a motivation to the actions of Limbaugh, Beck and Williams.

But, there is an underlying theme here, which is becoming ever harder to ignore. And it's becoming less subtle by the day.


Little Green Footballs highlight some of the posters on display at the recent tea party protest.

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