Conservatives have treated former President Jimmy Carter like a punching bag for a while, but Tuesday, he thrust himself back into the ring with fighting words.
In an interview with Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News, Carter was asked about the Sept. 12 “Tea Party” protest in Washington, D.C.
“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 said.
Harping on one of the U.S.’s most sensitive subjects, the former president has ignited a firestorm of indignation among conservatives.
Unfortunately for Obama and Democrats, Carter’s ill-advised comment has given right-wingers some dangerous “race card” ammunition.
Obama and his staff have been quick to get in front of the story. In a news conference last week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin.”
Obama even appeared on five Sunday talk shows, in part to distance himself from the Carter fiasco.
Politically, Carter has only further marginalized himself with his comments. Pragmatically, he came dangerously close to bogging down the Democratic agenda.
While he certainly didn’t do the president any favors by speaking his mind, his remarks have some justification, as photos of protest signs from the Tea Party and other rallies suggest so.
One bizarre display said, “What’s the difference between the Cleveland Zoo and the White House?” The reverse side: “The zoo has an African lion, but the White House has a lyin’ African.”
CNN reported a sign with the image of a tribal witch doctor wearing a feather headdress and full garb with Obama’s face. The caption read, “Obamacare: Coming to a clinic near you.”
While disappointing, these displays are hardly surprising. It’s obvious a select segment of the population may oppose Obama and his policies based on race.
After all, the election of an African-American president may be the ultimate affront to those who – consciously or not – hold the white race in higher regard than others.
Despite these actions, it seems doubtful that racism is responsible for “an overwhelming portion” of anger toward Obama, as Carter suggested.
What is far more significant than racism is a culture of ignorance that seems to be a shared quality among many of the “Tea Partiers.”
Protester Dave Rue said in a Washington Post article that, “We’re endangered because they’re pushing socialism on us.”
Another protester, Jeff Mapps, said he was concerned about a “blatant disregard for the Constitution.”
It is doubtful whether either of these men could point to an instance where Obama has done something unconstitutional or could explain how the president’s policies are socialistic with any coherence.
At a time when Democrats have proposed major reform via massive spending, the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility is sorely needed. Unfortunately, fear – spread by racism or ignorance – is a more convenient political weapon.
Vincent DeFrancesco is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.