Last week, former President Jimmy Carter weighed in on Representative Joe Wilson's outburst during President Barack Obama's healthcare speech to Congress with a statement that brings about more controversial issues than Wilson's act itself.
Carter told NBC's Brian Williams he thinks that "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."
Overall, the reaction to the former president's comments has been largely based on party politics. Democrats say that Carter's remarks were misguided and race is not a motivator for those who disagree with Obama. Republicans say that this is just another example of the liberals labeling those who disagree with them as "racist" in order to discourage dissent from their agenda. Unfortunately, it seems that an issue as deep and complex as race relations has become just another partisan battlefield of opposing ideologies.
This is sad because there are some real issues worth talking about wrapped in Carter's comment. Granted, he could definitely have chosen a better time to initiate a discussion on race than in the middle of one of the most important domestic policy debates of the decade. The bitter partisan divide in reaction to the comments prevents any meaningful discussion from taking place, and in reality is much more damaging than the comment itself, even if one categorizes it as "playing the race card."
It would be dishonest and na've to say that there are not people in this country who have racist feelings towards the president. One of the most common words used by those who do not support him has been mistrust. This mistrust for many people who grew up in a different time or geopolitical environment than many of us could come from deeply embedded and perhaps outwardly hidden racism.
In some cases, disapproval of Obama could be outright racism, pure and simple. To make the absolute statement that race does not factor into anyone's bitter opposition to his plan is going too far, simply since it is an absolute generalization. That being said, the overwhelming majority of people who oppose Obama's plan do so not because of the color of his skin, but because of the nature of his ideas, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Of course, Carter was not just addressing the opposition, but the expression of the opposition, and certainly posters saying "Obamanomics: monkey see, monkey spend" are overtly racist and warrant being informally sanctioned.
Those on the right may insist that this is not the norm, that most people are not racist in their approach to the president, but that does not change the fact that racism still exists. Once again, this in turn does not mean that one can simplify passionate opposition by misclassifying it as racism without attempting a thorough evaluation.
Should the president, then, be condemned for trying to brush aside the comments about his race? Despite the call from some for him to formally address or denounce the remarks, he is not delving into the issue. He's trying to avoid getting off track so that the government can accomplish something big to help its citizens. Go figure.