Former President Carter is mouthing off about Congressman Joe Wilson's impolite interruption of President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress by claiming that Wilson's actions were based on racism. Carter believes that there are those in the United States who can't accept that the leader of the nation is a black man.
Wilson's son was quick to retort that his dad is not a racist. I don't know that he is. And neither does Carter. When Carter claimed to have lusted in his heart then I presume he knew what he was talking about. It was his heart, after all, to which he referred. But I don't think he's in a position to know what's in Wilson's.
That being said, the fact that so many Americans, especially a number of blacks, feel that recent criticisms of Obama are racially motivated shows that - whether they are or they are not - the election of a mixed-race man to the White House did not eliminate the nation's racial divide.
The fact is, Obama isn't getting it on the chin any more than did, say, President Bush. In fact, in 2005, during his State of the Union address, Bush was heckled and jeered by Democratic members of Congress. Since he is white, I guess the race motivation accusation couldn't apply. Had he been a minority, perhaps it would have.
I don't doubt that some of those opposed to Obama and his policies are influenced by race. But, then again, some of those who support him are influenced by race as well. He said it himself, when asked about it during the campaign. He acknowledged that some people would probably not vote for him because of the color of his skin while others would - for the same reason.
Wilson was clearly wrong to break protocol as he did during the Obama address. So were the Democrats who interrupted Bush's speech in 2005. Wilson apologized and Obama accepted. It's time to move beyond that incident. Carter's assumption about Wilson's motivations don't help. Another apology is now in order. Carter should publicly apologize to the congressman.
But Carter's comments, the historic election of the first mixed race president and the president's public reactions to a confrontation between a white cop and a black professor all give us an opportunity, as well, to talk about race relations in the United States. Have they improved? Undoubtedly they have. But do stereotypes still exist? Surely they do. There's less overt and institutional racism today. Black people are no longer regulated to the back of the bus and assigned their own drinking fountains. But there's obviously still an undercurrent of racial divisiveness in this country. One that's not resolved just by sharing some beers at the White House. One that both blacks and whites need to address.