Jimmy Carter yesterday plainly said what everyone ought to know already. As the BBC reported it:
Former US President Jimmy Carter says much of the vitriol against President Barack Obama’s health reforms and spending plans is “based on racism”.
Mr Carter told a public meeting there was “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president”.
Any journalist who covered the Democratic presidential primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania could not possibly have missed the naked hatred of the man based on the fact he is black. Comments such as “Oh I’ll vote for the nigger” were actually emanating from Obama supporters, so you can imagine what his opponents were saying. These same kind of comments were in the air in western Maryland during a recent town meeting on health care. The area has a history of being not just right wing territory, but Klan territory.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Younger people might have illusions of a “post-racial” society, but the unsilent generation knows racism when it sees it. America has not crossed any divide on this subject. The Republicans, especially the Republican South, reborn under Nixon, now based on young white men, can be easily ignited on this subject. This is a region of the nation where black men were not so long ago addressed as “boy”–and are still sometimes referred to that way when no one who would object is listening.
You can bet this is the kind of atmosphere Joe Wilson is familiar enough, and you can bet that’s part of what emboldened him to call the President of the United States a liar from the floor of the U.S. Congress. As I wrote on Mother Jones last week:
Joe Wilson isn’t just some mean-spirited buffoon. As a South Carolina legislator, he was one of only 7 state senators who fought to keep the confederate battle flag flying over the state capital. South Carolina, of course, was the first state to leave the Union after Lincoln was elected. Flying the confederate battle flag was a big deal in the south, which was once—and in some cases is still—inhabited by the KuKluxKlan and its successors…
The decision to fly the Confederate battle flag was made by an all-white legislature in 1962 as the civil rights movement was picking up steam. The bill passed in 2000 didn’t even remove the flag entirely—it called for a different version of flag to be flown in front of the state house instead of on top of it.
The continued presence of a Confederate flag at the state house has caused the controversy to continue. In July 2009, the Atlantic Coast Conference—after discussions with the NAACP—decided to move three future college baseball tournaments out of South Carolina.
Jimmy Carter, who knows this world well also, called Wilson’s outburst “a dastardly thing to do”–which implies, as many others have, that it was a calculated move and not a spontaneous outburst. Responding to the personal attacks on Obama at town hall meetings and similar venues, Carter said: “Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on healthcare.”
Likewise, the attacks won’t end with health care reform. They’ll just roll on into other issues on the President’s agenda. Leaders of the Republican Right, whether or not they are deeply racist themselves, are determined to bring Obama down–and if the racism of their constituents does the job, so be it.