Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst to President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress last week was an act “based on racism” and rooted in fears of a black president.
“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. “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”
He spoke on the NBC Evening News, and of course Olbermann was all over it on his show, but Carter’s views, while surprising, weren’t surprising. This was a long time coming. And you might consider a summer of overtly racist comments from the fringe, defended by the mainstream right as not racist at all but really about policy, and everyone seeing that defense for the nonsense it was – with scattered regrets that it has come to this from the “thoughtful right” – as things spinning out of control. Or you might see it as things falling into place. The ground is shifting. It might be the new and most effective strategy for the Republicans to return to power. They have to yoke big-business free-market regulate-nothing fiscal conservatives, who want to end taxing the successful, to the social conservatives – anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-war, pro-torture, pro-Jesus and against healthcare reform and Hispanic folks (except for Cuban) and any sort of government programs that might provide any sort of social safety net. Those are two different parties. You need something both sides can use, without anyone stepping on any toes. And just a few words will do it. You do notice Obama is black, don’t you? They ask you to think about that. People do, and it taps into something.
So the framing of everything has changed. We’ll talk about race, or how we shouldn’t be talking about race, which is, in fact, talking about race. You win by changing the framing. The Democrats can never seem to learn that.
So Carter falls into the trap. He says Wilson’s outburst was a part of “a disturbing trend directed at the president” – demonstrators equating Obama to Nazi leaders, Hitler or Goebbels or whoever falls to hand, and all the “born in Kenya” stuff and so on. Carter says this – “Those kinds 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.” Of course, but give them a forum to deny there’s nothing deeper and you’re still talking about the issue. That keeps it fresh in the mind, and in the news cycles.
A few hours before Carter’s comments, Wilson was formally rebuked in a House vote for shouting “You lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress last Wednesday. That too kept the issue alive. Republicans claimed the Democrats were piling on and this was a witch hunt – the guy had already apologized to the president, and the president was okay with that. But the piling on helped the Republicans. The issue, of Obama’s blackness, was still in the air.
And of course you keep that issue in the air by saying it shouldn’t even be discussed, and saying that at length, publically. That is what Wilson’s eldest son did:
“There is not a racist bone in my dad’s body,” said Alan Wilson, an Iraq 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. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race.”
So let’s not talk about it, and not talk about it at length. South Carolina’s former Democratic Party chairman, Dick Harpootlian, who has known Wilson for decades, inadvertently worked to keep the issue alive, saying that he doesn’t really believe Wilson was motivated by racism, but, you know, that sort of thing does encourage racist views – “I don’t think Joe’s outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American. I think it was caused by no filter being between his brain and his mouth.”
But, you see, when that happens, the racists jump out of the woodwork to support a guy like Wilson, when Wilson didn’t even ask for that sort of support. Wilson is really quite harmless you see, a real pussycat, who loves black folks. He’s just a little excitable. It’s so sad. Carter called Wilson’s comment “dastardly” and “an aftershock of racist views that have permeated American politics for decades” – but he was just a bit too impulsive, at a bad moment.
So this will continue. The rest of the year may be a long national dialog, endless taking about just how we’re not talking about race. It’s very clever.
At salon.com, Alex Koppelman comments:
Expect Carter to take a lot of heat from the right for this – he’s not exactly beloved on that side of the political spectrum anyway, and they’ve been pretty angry about any suggestions that racism is involved in negative reactions to Obama. And the White House isn’t likely to jump in on Carter’s side. Beginning with the campaign, the president and his team have been very reluctant to get involved in issues of race, much less allegations of racism against Obama, in part as a way of avoiding charges from opponents that he’s playing the infamous “race card.”
With good reason, too – as Joan Walsh explained recently, as the GOP has been “raising consciousness about the president’s race and associating him with radical identity politics,” his support from white voters has been taking a hit.
That Walsh item is here. And she sees the obvious trend – “Obama steadily lost support among white voters during this long, hot summer of hate, with his white approval rating dropping by almost one-third, from 63 percent to 43 percent between Memorial Day and Labor Day.”
And that means folks like Joe Wilson, and those who love him, are a minor issue:
Of course Obama never had the support of whites like Joe Wilson, a solid son of the South who served as an aide to segregationist Strom Thurmond and who publicly doubted and derided Thurmond’s biracial daughter, Essie Mae, when she went public about her dad’s identity. Obama lost South Carolina to John McCain handily, just as he lost most of the rest of the region. No one expected anything different. Outside of the South, though, the 2008 election was remarkable for the minor role race seemed to play as the nation chose its first African-American president.
Despite attempts to find a “Bradley effect” in primary states Obama lost – there wasn’t one – and cries of racism against Hillary Clinton’s campaign (which look damn silly now that we’ve seen real anti-Obama racism), in the end Obama got elected with a larger share of the white vote than John Kerry pulled in 2004, 43 percent to Kerry’s 41 percent. And after his win, his white approval rating soared, to a high of 63 percent in Gallup’s weekly tracking polls on Inauguration Day.
But starting in the spring after the election, things changed:
The racially tinged debates over Obama’s appointing the first Latina to the Supreme Court and his politically unwise foray into the Henry Louis Gates flap, combined with organized GOP opposition, seem to have done what Obama’s political foes could never manage in 2008: They’ve blackened Obama, in both senses of the word – simultaneously diminishing his support and emphasizing his ethnicity. Simply by raising consciousness about the president’s race and associating him with radical identity politics, they’ve diminishing his standing among a large swath of the public. …
I started thinking opponents were blackening Obama back in July, after the racial drama of the Sotomayor hearings, when poor oppressed Caucasians like Sens. Jeff Sessions, Tom Coburn and Lindsey Graham made it sound like it was open season on white guys. Then came the racial morality play of the Gates arrest – Did race or class matter most? Should Obama have stayed out of it? – which gave way to the screaming of the Birthers, the angry gun-toting town-hall haters, the shrieking of Palinites over “death panels.”
Everything seemed to be focused on marginalizing Obama as scary – “the other.” And that worked. She reminds us that Glenn Beck said that healthcare reform was Obama’s idea of “reparations” for slavery – and said it over and over. And that wasn’t all:
The cries of “socialism” were just another way to mark him as “other” – scary and foreign. Watching scenes of shrieking, sobbing people pleading to “take our country back,” it was hard not to ask, from whom? The president who got a larger share of the vote than Ronald Reagan in 1980 or George Bush in 2000? What exactly is it that makes this particular commander in chief an interloper?
Finally, when Republicans began objecting to Obama’s speaking to school kids last week, you couldn’t ignore the racism: Listening to some parents’ expressing actual fear of having Obama beamed into their kids’ classrooms, it was hard to imagine such hysteria being inspired by a white president. It would never happen.
The rest of the item covers the polling:
Between January and the end of May, Obama’s white support went up and down a point or two, but stayed close to the 60 percent mark. The week that ended May 10, Obama had a 60 percent approval rating. Then in late May it began to sink steadily. Of course, the end of May marked the first racially charged controversy of Obama’s presidency, the nomination of Sotomayor and the furor over her “wise Latina” remarks.
Obama’s white support trended slowly downward throughout the summer in the weekly Gallup poll, but took another relatively large (4 point) drop between July 19 and July 26, a fiery week that saw the arrest of Skip Gates, Obama’s comment that Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in that incident, followed by Obama’s “recalibration” of those words. I said at the time that Obama’s commenting on the Gates mess was a mistake, even if it was a completely understandable one. Replying reflexively, as a victim of racial profiling, Obama was sincere – but in that moment, there’s no denying, he got blacker to a segment of the white population.
That seemed to be the plan. The bottom fell out of white support. But Walsh urges a bit of caution:
The timeline is intriguing, but correlation isn’t cause, and we can’t prove these events directly led to the decline in Obama’s white support. Ever the optimist, I’d even argue that racism is probably not the main cause. For one thing, the surge in white approval around Inauguration Day was lovely, but predictably ephemeral; it reflected people’s pride in the country’s having elected a black president more than their belief in him. (His current 43 percent white approval rating could be cited as proof that Obama has simply come back down to earth after more than seven months in office, since that’s the exact share of white support he got on Election Day.)
And while I think race, and racism, have played a role in the angry yelling of the Birthers and Deathers, and in the despicable contempt Wilson showed the president in Congress last week, I think most of the president’s troubles with white voters have to do with political doubt his enemies have sown about his programs – after Obama, in my opinion, was too slow to push his own clear proposals, especially for healthcare.
But some things are, according to Walsh, still obvious:
There may still be some subliminal racial discomfort in that growing white voter doubt, because all of the extreme right-wing questions about Obama – Is he an outsider? Does he care about people like us? Is he competent to run the country? Can he be trusted? (“You lie!”) Is he dangerous (we can’t trust him with our children!)? – echo the most crippling stereotypes that afflict black men in America. (As I write I’m listening to a woman at the Washington tea party on Saturday screaming, “We will not let Obama ram socialism down our throats!” Where to start?) It’s a cruel irony that this conciliatory, courteous, accommodating black man still faces claims that he’s a scary menace to America.
Yes, Bill Clinton was a drug dealer, a rapist and a murderer, and no one is calling Obama any of that. Yes, one now-famous minister is proudly and openly praying for Obama’s death. But Clinton had the much more famous Jerry Falwell on his case, forever explaining that Clinton was a drug dealer and a murderer. It’s just more of the same, and maybe milder, but maybe not:
Anti-Clinton extremism never really touched off organized opposition to Clinton among American voters. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember, and can’t find evidence, that tens of thousands, or even hundreds, of opponents rallied against Clinton, toting, say, cigars or blue dresses to mock the Lewinsky mess, or placards labeling him a murderer or rapist. (In fact the president’s approval rating rose during and after the farce of impeachment.) This time the Republican attack is resonating with a small but extremely vocal and paranoid segment of its base, and I think racism has everything to do with that.
That may be, as on Tuesday, September 15, there was the story of a black teenager in Illinois who beat up a white kid – and maybe other black teens cheered him on, or so it seems in the video. Walsh notes the Drudge site ran the headline, “White student beaten on school bus; crowd cheers” and Rush Limbaugh told his radio listeners this – “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.” As she says, the message seems to be that in Barack Obama’s America it’s open season on white people!
Of course, kids of every color have been beaten up by kids of every color from time immemorial, but in Barack Obama’s America, wingnuts are going to a) insist it’s about black racism and b) say it’s Obama’s fault. It’s despicable, but it’s becoming a daily occurrence.
The video is hard to watch, but while it’s clear the victim is white and his attacker (or attackers, it isn’t clear) are black – and should be punished – it’s also clear that kids of both races riding the bus were horrified, while kids of both races also cheered the fight on.
And of course what Drudge and Limbaugh didn’t note is the racial history of Belleville, Ill., the town where the assault occurred, which according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has had “a long history of racial turmoil, with a past that includes police harassment of black motorists, cross burnings and discrimination in city hiring.” The paper also reports today that the Belleville police chief, who earlier called the beating “racially motivated,” based on zero evidence, has backtracked. “After having reviewed the video, it doesn’t strike me nearly as racially motivated,” the chief now says. I still don’t see that headlined on Drudge. Not holding my breath.
But it’s been that kind of week:
Joe Wilson screaming at Obama; Kanye West humiliating Taylor Swift (I’m leaving Serena Williams out of it, for now). What slays me is how questions of race always wind up somehow relevant to Obama. I’m not calling anyone racist here, but I do wonder if George W. Bush would have been asked about Kanye’s outburst at the VMAs, as Obama was by reporters last night. … It’s always disturbed me that wonderful black people so frequently have to answer for the bad behavior of other black people, whether it’s mainstream black politicians who used to be routinely forced to weigh in on the nuttiness of Louis Farrakhan; now it’s poor Obama being expected to “call out” Kanye.
Well, the man has been thoroughly blackened. And oddly, Jimmy Carter helped that along.
And here we go. The right is upset about the race war that is starting, the blacks beating our children to death and taking over, or that seems to be the implication. There are thousands of such posts out there on the web and Michelle Malkin is the mildest – it’s racial thuggery and Obama started it.
But there are those damned details:
A student on a Belleville West High School bus was beaten for his choice of seat, not because he was white, according to a witness and police. “The incident appears now to be more about a couple of bullies on a bus dictating where people sit,” said Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax, who originally said Monday’s attack may have been racially motivated. D’Vante Lott, 16, said he was on the bus and witnessed the attack by the two black students. The victim walked onto the bus, looking for an open seat, but students kept turning him down, as D’Vante said happened often with this student. But Monday, the victim apparently tired of asking for a seat, D’Vante said, moved one student’s book-bag off a seat, and just sat down.
So the police chief himself said he jumped to a conclusion. But Malkin refuses to remove or correct the post that says flat-out that the attack was racial, and only offers this:
The police are backing off the racial motive claims. Given the explosive consequences of candor about such matters, this is not surprising.
Andrew Sullivan corrects her:
No: one police chief said he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. But Malkin insists that the real reason was racial and that the chief is bowing to political correctness.
Every time I think the far right won’t go there, they do. The race-baiting now going on as a way to build resentment of Obama is pretty amazing.
And there is Limbaugh:
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 come to the defense of the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard.
I’m sorry but this is outrageous. The story was a classic school bus bully incident; it could happen anywhere any time and has happened everywhere at all times with kids of all races, backgrounds and religions. To infer both that it was racially motivated and that this is somehow connected to having a black president is repulsive. I know that is almost de trop with Limbaugh, but sometimes you have to regain a little shock. This man is spewing incendiary racial hatred. He is conjuring up images of lonely whites being besieged by angry violent blacks … based on an incident that had nothing to do with race at all. And why, by the way, does someone immediately go to the racial angle when looking at such a tape?
This will lead nowhere good:
These people are going off the deep end entirely: open panic at a black president is morphing into the conscious fanning of racial polarization, via Gates or ACORN or Van Jones or a school bus in Saint Louis. What we’re seeing is the Jeremiah Wright moment repeated and repeated. The far right is seizing any racial story to fan white fears of black power in order to destroy Obama. And the far right now controls the entire right.
Do they understand how irresponsible this is? How recklessly dangerous to a society’s cohesion and calm? Or is that what they need and thrive on?
What can you say? The answer to all three questions is yes. The dam has burst.
And they will say Obama has unleashed a race war, and white Americans have no choice but to take up arms and defend their children. Once you set the framing, it all falls into place. And no Republican leader can stop this now. They decided to set it in motion, as framing things this way seemed like a good idea at the time. They’ll have to live with it, as will we all.