An “overwhelming portion” of the public animosity directed at President Barack Obama and his efforts at healthcare reform this summer is based simply “on the fact that he is a Black man,” according to former Pres. Jimmy Carter, a southerner, who grew up in racially divided Georgia, personally witnessing Jim Crow segregation in all its forms.
“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 that 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. As president, elected in 1976 he continued that policy, appointing Blacks to a number of positions never before held by Blacks.
“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 African Americans 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, Pres. 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.”
“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.
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 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.