When Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out "You lie!" during Obama's health care address last week, many saw it simply as a Republican lashing out as a Democrat. Others, though, saw a racial element. The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was among the first to claim racism:
"Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it."
The argument gained more steam when former President Jimmy Carter added his voice to the discussion, calling the comment "dastardly."
"I think it's based on racism," Carter said in response to an audience question at a town hall held at his presidential center in Atlanta Tuesday. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."
Joe Wilson was not available for comment on the former president's accusation. But Wilson's son defended his father.
"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq War veteran who is running for state attorney general. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him.
"It's unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree -- and appropriately disagree -- on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it's absolutely ludicrous," continued Wilson.
Carter also spoke about the so-called "tea parties," and health care town hall meetings where people held up signs equating 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. It's deeper than that," Carter said.
The Congressional Black Caucus claims such controversies as the firestorm that erupted before Obama addressed the nation's schoolchildren, protesters showing up outside Obama events carrying licensed firearms, and "birthers" questioning Obama's citizenship are also rooted in racism. Members say such incidents are designed to disrespect the office of the president now that a black man holds it.
"There's no question that if you look at some of the actions and comments being made, there's a fringe element that has staked out a racial position towards African-Americans that never has been open for public display until now," said Caucus member Henry Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia.
This is something we've seen in our country before. "It feels very O.J-ish," said Kathryn Russell-Brown, the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida, referring to the racial divide in public opinion over the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson for the 1994 murder of his white wife. "It's deja vu all over again. People have staked out their ground: 'It's about race; no it's not about race.'"
Someone who feels it's not about race is President Obama himself. His spokesman, Robert Gibbs, appeared on CNN on Sunday, and responded to the accusations of racism:
“I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin. I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we have ever seen... I do think, again, this rhetoric often just gets way too hot.”
Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page writes that while race "still matters," it must be put in perspective when it comes to President Obama:
"In judging Obama's performance, it would be wrong to make too much of the role played by race, although it would be foolish to make too little of it. Team Obama came into office with a lot of defensive boasting about the big jobs they had to do with two wars, economic catastrophe and a broken health-care system, among other disasters. How do you separate the impact of Obama being the nation's first black president from that of his being the first to take on such a big load of hot-button issues?"
OpposingViews asks: Is racism a factor in the opposition movement against Obama?