As the chorus of people claiming that racism is behind the opposition to President Obama’s health care reform proposals grows — including, most recently, former President Carter — it is gratifying to see that the White House is saying that President Obama disagrees with that sentiment. I think the President correctly understands that his proposals, if adopted, would make significant changes to how Americans pay for and use health care and therefore are bound to provoke some strong reactions and disagreements, regardless of the race of the individual who is advocating for those proposals. I very much respect the fact that President Obama is willing to accept the opposition in good faith and at face value and to defend his proposals on their merits, without impugning the opponents as ignorant racists.
As for former President Carter, I think he continues to demonstrate why he was rejected by American voters after serving only one term almost 30 years ago. President Carter was out of touch with the American public when he was President and he has become, if anything, more out of touch in the decades since he left the office. Has President Carter recently spent time with average Americans during breaks in his efforts to mediate various international disputes? What possible factual basis could he have for contending that millions of Americans who now oppose President Obama’s health care reform proposals — including many people who voted for President Obama less than a year ago — are motivated to do so by racial hatred and bigotry?
Comments like those of former President Carter not only harm America’s reputation abroad, they also are terribly destructive of civil political discourse in this country because they demonize, and do not allow for legitimate disagreement on significant issues where there obviously is ample room for legitimate disagreement. Even if President Carter sincerely holds the beliefs he has expressed, and is not merely engaging in cheap political tactics to try to intimidate or embarrass opponents of the President’s health care reforms, he would do the country an enormous service by keeping those beliefs to himself.