Dodging the race question?By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Sep 25, 2009 - 1:01:46 PM As one president condemns racial bias, another downplays a volatile subject
“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,” Mr. Carter told a town hall meeting days after the outburst during the president's speech to Congress Sept. 9, by South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson.
“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. That racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of a 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 grieves me and concerns me very deeply,” the former president continued.
Mr. Carter grew up on a farm in the 1930s, where he admits he “stayed barefoot from the middle of March until the middle of October,” has worked to overturn racial segregation throughout his career in public office. When he was sworn in as the 76th governor of Georgia Jan. 12, 1971 he declared in his inaugural speech that the time of racial segregation was over and racial discrimination had no place in the future of the state.
He was the first statewide office holder in the Deep South to make this declaration in public, and he appointed many Blacks to statewide boards and offices, during his term. Elected president in 1976, he continued that policy by appointing Blacks to a number of positions members of the community never previously held.
“When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the President of the United States of America as an animal or a reincarnation of Adolph Hitler, or when they wave signs in the air that say ‘We should have buried Obama with Kennedy,' those kind of things are beyond the bounds of the way presidents have ever been accepted, even with people who disagree,” Mr. Carter told NBC News. “And I think that people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree, by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American. It's a racist attitude.”
But Mr. Obama's opponents insist their opposition is simply to the administration's policies, and that Democrats, liberals, and especially Blacks fall too easily into the “trap” of declaring racism as the chief source of rage against the first Black president.
Surprising many of his supporters, President Obama said he agrees that race is not the primary factor fueling his opposition. The cause, he said was a sense of suspicion and distrust many Americans have in their government. “Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are,” Mr. Obama told CNN Sept. 18. “That's not the overriding issue here.”
In five separate television interviews at the White House Sept. 18 aired on the Sunday talk shows Sept. 20, Mr. Obama said again and again he did not agree with Mr. Carter's assertion that racism was underlying the opposition to his administration. Mr. Obama described himself as just the latest in a line of presidents whose motives have been questioned because they were trying to enact major change.
“Race is such a volatile issue in this society” that he conceded it had become difficult for people to tell whether it was simply a backdrop of the current political discussion or “a predominant factor.”
“Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right,” he told ABC News. “And I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.” The president spoke to anchors from three broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC as well as the cable networks CNN and Univision. He conceded that many people were skeptical of the health care legislation making its way through Congress
“The overwhelming part of the American population, I think, is right now following this debate, and they are trying to figure out, is this going to help me?” Mr. Obama said in one of the interviews. “Is health care going to make me better off?”
But even as the White House sought to push it aside, the issue of race persisted through the week, with some critics saying it was the reason a Republican lawmaker was disrespectful to the president, calling him a liar, interrupting the President's address to a joint session of Congress.
“Look, I said during the campaign there's some people who still think through a prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy. Absolutely,” Mr. Obama told NBC News. “Sometimes they vote for me for that reason; sometimes they vote against me for that reason.” But he said that the matter was really “an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic. And that is, what's the right role of government?”
Mr. Obama had no choice but to avoid getting into a race-debate, Dr. Ronald Walters, Professor of Government at the University of Maryland told The Final Call. “African Americans have to live with racism 24-7. So, much of our prism of course, is bounded by what happens to us because of our race. Whites on the other hand, don't have to always be bothered with this, so they seem surprised when racial events occur, or racial explanations are given,” Dr. Walters said in another interview.
“The president has tried, ever since his campaign to not to give in to the racialization of what he's attempting to do, either with respect to his running for office, or his governance. He has pushed back every time people have tried to pull him on the question of race, and inject it into what he is doing, and so he has tried to say in effect, that ‘I want to govern outside of this context.' But in a country like this, that's almost impossible to do.”
Mr. Carter, celebrated now by many progressive voices as a better former president—some say “the best” former president ever—than when he was actually in office, has been far ahead of his time concerning policies which were reviled when he articulated them. And history has consistently proven his critics wrong, going back to a newspaper cartoon which depicted him with a sign announcing his candidacy being led by a devil carrying a snowball.
It was 30 years this summer, on July 15, 1979 when Mr. Carter delivered what was referred to as his “malaise speech,” in which he declared that the energy crisis “the moral equivalent to war.”
Today however, the federal government is just catching up with the Carter doctrine. “When I became president, the average vehicle got only 12 miles per gallon. We mandated 28.5 miles per gallon,” Mr. Carter told Esquire magazine. “But as soon as I left office, President Reagan undid all that, to the extent that he could. The auto industry has now finally raised its fleet average above 20 miles per gallon in recent years.
Mr. Carter, who came close to negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord at Camp David during his last year in office, has also become an even more forceful critic of Israel's “apartheid”-like policies toward the Palestinians today.
Palestinians in Gaza are being treated “more like animals than human beings,” he said in June after touring the Gaza Strip for the first time since the Israeli attack after the 2008 election, but before the Obama administration took office.
“Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to defend itself,” he told reporters then. Accusing the international community of ignoring the plight of the Palestinians, he added, “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than like human beings.”
In June, Mr. Carter also called for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel, months before an exhaustive special United Nations investigation released this month, reported that Israeli crimes in its Gaza attack approached the level of “crimes against humanity.”
“There is no explanation. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, in Cairo, in Washington, and in the capitals of Europe, throughout the international community. This abuse must cease. The crimes committed against you must be investigated. The walls must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you,” Mr. Carter said during his Gaza visit.
At the same time, racial hostility by conservatives continued without let-up. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh, declared on his program Sept. 16 that the United States needed to return to racially segregated buses.
Referring to an incident in which a White student was beaten by Black students on a bus, Mr. Limbaugh blamed President Obama. “I think the (victim's) wrong. I think not only it was racism, it was justifiable racism. I mean, that's the lesson we're being taught here today. The kid shouldn't have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses—it was invading space and stuff. This is Obama's America.” (A full transcript of Mr. Limbaugh's comments on his radio show is available at MediaMatters.org.)
“In Obama's America, the White kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.'
“I wonder if Obama's going to come to the defense of the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard. White Americans are racists who have created what they call free markets that really just enslave the rest of America and her trading partners,” Mr. Limbaugh said mockingly. “I mean, it was White Americans that ran off Van Jones. No, look, let's just follow Eric Holder's advice and not be cowards about all this. Let's have an open conversation, an honest conversation about all of our typical White grandmothers. You had one, I had one. Obama had one. They're racists just like our students are,” Mr. Limbaugh continued.
“If homosexuality being inborn is what makes it acceptable, why does racism being inborn not make racism acceptable?” the talk show host asked. “I'm sorry—I mean, this is the way my mind works. But apparently now we don't choose racism, we just are racists. We are born that way. We don't choose it. So shouldn't it be acceptable, excuse — this is according to the way the left thinks about things.”