Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Does "You Lie" indicate a racist backlash for President Obama?

I've had a couple of lengthy posts about the SNP Government and the National Conversation in recent days. But my attention has been turned overseas to the big issue of the day in the US.

No, not President Obama's intended healthcare reforms. The other one - whether opposition to President Obama is based on race. (Former Democratic) President Jimmy Carter says so, so it must be true, mustn't it? This New York Times Opinion Piece thinks so. The Washington Post concurs, calling Representative Joe Wilson's (Republican, South Carolina, who shouted "You lie" during Obama's speech to Congress) actions the "escalation" of racial tension.

Now I wrote during the Presidential Campaign this time last year about the potential racial dimension the contest might take. And it is clear that some of those who voted for Senator McCain did so on the back of clearly racist views. And those views are probably still prevalent today.

However, for me there is something inherently dangerous to democracy in suggesting that if someone disagrees with Obama's plans - on whatever level - then they are racist.

It diminishes the responsibility of opposition to government. It says that opposition politicians cannot be trusted to judge the executive on their policies and cannot see beyond skin colour. It diminishes the debate itself by reducing the discussion on healthcare reform - as serious as serious, nation-dividing issues get in the States - to an argument about skin colour. And, most importantly, it diminishes the democratic system. Resorting to "you're just saying that 'coz you're racist" is the apparently grown-up equivalent of "you smell".

I get that race still divides like nothing else in the States. And that some don't like Obama as President because of his skin colour, and that is and will remain a huge problem. But the whole debate needs to grow up some. I'm not in a position to judge whether Congressman Wilson's comment was racially motivated or not. But neither, really, is anyone else. Only the Congressman himself will know for sure whether he has a prejudiced view of the President based on his skin colour, and only he will know whether that influenced his outburst.

It has taken 9 months for any opposition to Obama to be branded racist, and I'll be honest, I'm surprised it has taken that long. But American politics has to realise that when Obama was elected it was not on 100% of the vote and it did not cure all divisions in American society, whatever his message of change was. Yes there are some who maintain their views based on race. But there are also those who disagree with him on an ideological, practical or partisan position. That is where the debate needs to reside, and not on the colour of his skin.


Indy 16 September 2009 at 16:13  

The problem with your argument is that there is a racial element to the whole healthcare issue in the States. Skin colour is a key factor.

Black and ethnic minority people make up one-third of the U.S. population but more than half of the uninsured. Perhaps a more shocking statistic is that while half of people receiving Medicaid are black or ethnic minority, Medicaid spends almost twice as much per head on white people. Other statistics are equally shocking - black women are four times as likely as white women to die in childbirth for example.

Race is an underlying issue in the whole debate. It may not be vocalised directly but everyone knows that Obama's reforms will primarily benefit black and ethnic minority people.

Malc 16 September 2009 at 17:11  

Fine - but why not say that? Instead of accusing opposition politicians of being racist because they disagree with the President. Seems like they could have an actual debate... for a change.

Observer 16 September 2009 at 22:12  

The whole debate about race has been hijacked by people who claim that racism is ''pc nonsense'' in this country and in the US use other ways of framing it.

Carter is right. But it has become such a politicised issue now with people alleging that claims of racism are spurious.

I think we are getting to the stage now where insidious racism is getting a bit like Lucifer in convincing people that it doesn't exist - that is their tactic.

Indy 17 September 2009 at 09:51  

Why not say that?

Because the fact that it is black and ethnic minority people who will benefit primarily from Obama's proposals is the reason why lots of people do not support them.

It's the elephant in the room. Obama does not want to address the race issue directly. His best chance of succeeding is to pretend that it doesn't exist. He will certainly not be pleased with Jimmy Carter for saying what he did.

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