Despite comments from President Obama Wednesday dismissing the notion that racism was behind conservative attacks against him, former President Jimmy Carter repeated his belief that Obama’s skin color is playing a role.
"When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds," Carter, a Democrat who served from 1977-1981, told students at Emory University. "I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African American.”
In his speech at the 28th annual town hall meeting at Emory, Carter said he is hoping that such an unprecedented “racist attitude” will be condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike. On Tuesday, Carter first mentioned his belief that racism was prevalent in modern presidential politics. He cited an outburst by South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, during Obama’s speech before the joint session of the U.S. Legislature. Wilson yelled, “You Lie!” as the president spoke about his plan for a universal health care plan.
Speaking to Brian Williams of “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday, Carter said, "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. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shares the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans."
Carter’s comments drew a rebuke from Michael Steele, the first Black person to head the Republican National Committee. "President Carter is flat-out wrong," Steele said in a statement. "This isn't about race. It is about policy."
But another prominent African American – actor/activist/comedian Bill Cosby – sided with the former president. "During President Obama's speech on the status of health care reform, some members of Congress engaged in a public display of disrespect," he said. "While one representative hurled the now infamous 'you lie' insult at the president, others made their lack of interest known by exhibiting rude behavior such as deliberately yawning and sending text messages."