Former President Jimmy Carter speaks during his 28th annual town hall meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, Wednesday, September 16, 2009.
Former President Jimmy Carter speaks during his 28th annual town hall meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, Wednesday, September 16, 2009. Paul Abell/AP
When America elected President Obama there was great hope that the country had taken a giant leap into the post-racial era. Months later, we have to wonder whether the election of the first American president who happens to be black is exacerbating — not quelling — this country's painful dialogue on race.
Exhibit A: Former President Jimmy Carter recently joined a chorus of Democrats describing any criticism of the president as racist. "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African-American," Carter recently said on NBC. Carter then added that Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-SC) recent shout of "You lie!" during President Obama's address to Congress was "based on racism."
Jimmy Carter's remarks, suggesting that Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst was racially motivated, have reignited the passionate discussion about racism in America. Liberal commentator Dominique Apollon also weighed in on Carter's remarks.
Carter's tactic is obvious: Unable or unwilling to address the very serious concerns about President Obama's health care proposal, he simply took to attacking the other side. Nothing solicits a knee-jerk response from the American public like shouts of racism. By extrapolating racism, Carter placed himself on center stage and may very well have helped his party take back ownership of the health care debate.
But at what cost? Serious questions remain about President Obama's health care proposal — not least of which being whether it will bankrupt the country. These concerns resonated with millions of Americans across this landscape. So pervasive were these concerns that they birthed an entire grassroots movement. All of these concerns are obscured when complex policy issues are distilled into the color of our president's skin. That's precisely what occurred when Carter stated that criticism of the president's health care policy was motivated by race. This debate is about policy — not the color of the president's skin.
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Armstrong Williams is heard nightly on Sirius/XM Power 169, 9-10 p.m. daily. Courtesy of Armstrong Williams
Former President Carter certainly understands that it's through the friction of diverse ideas that fears are raised to consciousness for examination. This is how democracy functions: by allowing people who disagree to engage in a meaningful and intense debate. Preventing people from discussing diverse ideas only stimulates hatred and stifles democracy; allowing people who disagree to engage in a civil dialogue is critical to democracy.
The same lessons apply here: just as silence does not equate to social justice, impassioned dissent does not equate to racism. The friction of diverse minds is the lifeblood of democracy.
There was something so unique about the hope that carried President Obama into office. He promised a new national dialogue based on the friction of diverse minds. Sadly, his own party undermines that hope when Democrats label and dismiss the president's critics as racists — merely because they deign to disagree. This week Carter may have helped the Democrats dominate the news cycle. He also reminded us that the hope of a post-tribal America — so beautifully embodied by the election of President Obama — remains a distant dream.