President Obama has firmly rejected the idea that racism is what’s fueling opposition to his health care reform plans. Politically and pragmatically, he’s smart to do so. He wants the debate to be about the ideas in the health care plan, not about his personal characteristics. As a political theorist, he also understands that the debate over whether government is too big and too intrusive is the central driver of opposition, while the issue of his race is a distraction that could, in fact, undermine his ability to address the core issues.
Does President Obama’s rejection of the “race card” in the opposition mean that former President Jimmy Carter and others were wrong to cite racism as a factor in some of the virulent opposition to the health care plan? No. Carter can be correct even while Obama defuses the issue by not giving it the power to dominate his agenda.
Bob Herbert’s column “The Scourge Persists” in Saturday’s New York Times eloquently presents the case for the persistence of racism in the national debate. On the same op-ed page, David Brooks makes the case “No, It’s Not About Race” as he discusses the long history of populism pitting educated elites against the working class.
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