Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Joe Wilson racist?

Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that Joe Wilson's comment during Obama's speech, "You lie!" was related to racism. Some who know Wilson, including Democrats, have suggested that it was more idiotic than racist. I mulled this over this morning in my own mind.

My first thought was that the anger of individuals like Wilson and others toward the health care reforms in the works right now is probably not generated by racism. Hilary Clinton would no doubt receive the same ire if she were the one standing there.

But then I asked myself the next question. Would Wilson have yelled out "You lie!" if it had been Clinton giving the speech... or Ted Kennedy? Here my thoughts took a different course. I don't think Wilson would have yelled it if it were Ted Kennedy as President giving the speech. In fact, I wonder seriously if anyone would have yelled such a thing if it were Hilary Clinton.

So I have concluded in my own mind not that the comment or anger itself was racially based but that it was likely a certain latent disrespect related to race that probably made the difference between thinking "You lie" and shouting it out. I think if Obama were not black, the comment would have stopped before getting to Wilson's mouth. So the comment was not racist, but the dynamic that allowed for the unprecedented disrespect probably was.

What do you think?


Tom Peters said...

I think you underestimate the depth of conservative antipathy for Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election the national rhetoric would be even more corrosive, the partisanship would be more stark, and 3 or 4 people would have said "you lie" during her speech. I lived through the Clinton years, and the amount of visceral hatred for the man among conservatives was amazing. The hard right might not like Obama, but the emotional response to Obama is a lot more moderate.

FWIW, I don't think Wilson's outburst was all that much the result of racism. I think it was more of a political move (like Republicans holding up pages of legislation to counter the idea that they had no ideas)that backfired on him. The fact that Obama is black had little to do with it. But I don't have a window into his heart, so I don't know.

Joel Byer said...

I suppose it's impossible to tell who might have said what had ___ been elected.
Which, ironically, is just the point. My problem with Carter and others' analysis is that it at best smacks of judgmentalism, and at worst... a cheap partisan political ploy.
The point is, we CAN'T really know another person's inner motives in such an instance, and to attribute it all to a blanket case of racism, is way too simplistic... IMHO.
Wilson was wrong and clearly out of line, however the punishment should fit the's not.

Nathan Crawford said...

Carter's comments were more about the surrounding discourse involved in the health care debate. He was saying that because the President is black, there has been a certain level of animosity and a general attitude that probably would not be there if a white liberal was president.

And, I think Carter is totally correct. I read an interesting book called Racism without Racists by Eduoardo Bonilla-Silva. He showed that oftentimes racism does not exist with racist people, but in underlying racist attitudes, underlying racist biases, etc. This is what is going on in the country more than racism as practiced by Neo-Nazis or the KKK. Joe Wilson's comment, then, does not mean he is a racist, but that the country's discourse is still racist.

Also, one more point, on the issue of Clinton or Kennedy being president and how conservatives may treat them - we did see an example of this in the early 90's. And, that discussion revolved around things actually being proposed in a bill in Congress, not around 'death panels' and socialism. I think this points to a certain lack of respect for the President or a deep divide that leads to dismissal and hatred in American political rhetoric. Either way, it's not positive.

matthew said...

I'm not sure how you arrived at the conclusion that he probably wouldn't have done the same thing with a different president...

This is a strange post in my opinion

Ken Schenck said...

I posted this on Facebook (where there is more discussion):

"The label racist is not very helpful. For example, I'm not quite sure how to answer when I ask myself, 'Am I racist?' I'm sure that there are times when I prejudge situations or act differently because race is involved. I would rather say that some of my decisions inappropriately include race as a factor rather than to label myself as a racist. My intention is never to do so.

"So I suppose a better question is whether we as individuals behave or think differently toward President Obama because of his color. I am fully convinced that the label 'socialized medicine' all by itself is sufficient to command the lion's share of current ire.

"On the other hand, do vast numbers of the American populace feel freer to show a greater amount of disrespect to the President than they might given a person of a different color with the same positions? Whether the answer in the case of Joe Wilson is true or not, I think the answer in regard to the general populace is almost certainly yes as well.

My opinions...

Kevin Jackson said...

Perhaps the disrespect was age / experience related. In Wilson's mind, Obama hasn't paid his dues. For example if Keith Olbermann or Al Franken were president, I can visualize a "you lie" coming their way. Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy, on the other hand are (were) both older and more experienced.

Aaron Perry said... has tests that purport to show initial, hidden biases that we all have about geography, race, gender, etc. That Wilson's comments were partially directed by his initial preferences of race, therefore, would not be a surprise. However, suppose Colin Powell were giving the speech. Would he have yelled this? I doubt it. He could still have an underlying, subconscious, preference but it would not have manifest in that way.

Ken Schenck said...

Colin Powell is a good point, although it is difficult for me to do the thought experiment, since it is hard to picture Powell making the same health care proposal or carrying the same content ire.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It may sound prejuidiced, but isn't it born out, that African Americans are mostly Democratic?

I remember supporting Alan Keyes. He even tried to have a "Black conservative organization" (can't remember the formal name). And he was "persecuted" in Atlanta at the convention.

I think that Colin Powell is a good example of someone who would differ greatly from Obama in his political views. So, if one is prejuidiced when it comes to political ideology, that is fine, but when one is biased in regards to nationality or any other "differences", that is forbidden?

Obama has the "best of both worlds" as he can play the "race card" when his radical ideological views are challenged. He can demonize his opponent with immunity and without opposition, because he is African American and everyone always second-guesses their motives in opposing his views. After all, the biggest "sin" America has had, has been the "civil war".

Brian Small said...

How would you know either way, Ken?

Anonymous said...

Such a strong claim only damages the cases when real racism takes place.

As one moderate-liberal journalist stated, one may think that, by making such an unsupported charge, Carter is secretly working for the Republicans.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

If anyone is interested, Richard Beck has a good entry on his blog, Experiential Theology, about the issue of "purity and defilement". This explains the phenomena of "cleansing one's conscience" of real morality.