I don’t usually read Maureen Dowd’s columns, but I happened to stumble across this one. Her thesis is that a significant part of the opposition to President Obama’s health care reform proposals and some of his other initiatives is based on his race. She intimates that the stupid and juvenile “You lie” outburst from South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson during the President’s recent speech on health care has some racial component. New York Times op-ed columnists apparently have a supernatural ability to read the depths of a person’s soul and determine whether his actions are motivated by race. I don’t claim to have supernatural powers, and I don’t doubt that there are still benighted, abject racists in American society. I don’t sense, however, that race has anything to do with why many people are concerned about some of President Obama’s proposals.
The fact is that President Obama’s campaign for the presidency promised change, and he is now, by his own admission, trying to bring about very significant changes to American society. It is not at all surprising that the President’s efforts to fundamentally change how Americans get and pay for health care have attracted attention and opposition, because those efforts target an area that poses highly personal issues of choice and control. People who oppose the President’s proposed reforms recognize that he means what he says; they oppose the changes he is pursuing because they recognize that the changes are significant and they are concerned about how those change could affect them. Suggesting that President Obama’s proposals are minor and uncontroversial — and therefore that the only reason people could have for opposing the proposals must be racism — does a disservice both to those who oppose his policies for legitimate reasons and to the magnitude of President Obama’s proposals.
President Obama seems perfectly willing to engage in the war of ideas about health care reform and to advocate for his proposals on their merits. Those of his defenders who, like Maureen Dowd, contend that his opponents must be reacting to President Obama’s race are cheapening and undercutting the President’s efforts. President Obama does not need their paternalism.