Former President Jimmy Carter has condemned Rep. Joe Wilson's recent outburst ("You lie!") during President Obama's speech as being motivated by racism: “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 is African-American," said Carter, adding, "Racism ... still exists and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply."
President Obama has since said that he doesn't believe Wilson's statement was motivated by racism, but that hasn't stopped people from throwing a fit over it - especially congress.
I agree with President Carter's assertion that "The president is not only the head of government, he is the head of state. And no matter who he is or how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect." But it's funny how disingenuous these little statements of presidential support seem after eight years of Bush-trashing. No one seemed to be getting upset over Bush being called a liar over and over and over again. A religious nut. A dictator. A Nazi. Whatever. Since he was evil incarnate, no one seemed to care.
But if you have an honest disagreement with Obama, you are called a racist. It's the same problem with the gay marriage issue. If you oppose gay marriage you are a bigot - no ifs, ands or buts. Is this truly the way to have good and reasonable discussions of policy or law? If anyone who has an opposing opinion is demonized, how are we supposed make informed decisions? There are two sides to every story.
I don't recommend going about sharing your opinion the way Congressman Wilson did, but I can understand the pent-up frustration that led to his outburst. So why can't we acknowledge that his actions were inappropriate, let him apologize, and leave it at that?
The interesting thing since this Joe Wilson flap is the idiot behavior of Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards. Apparently Kanye (you remember Kanye, don't you?) was so perturbed over singer Taylor Swift winning Female Video of the Year over Beyonce's "Single Ladies" that he waltzed up to the stage and stole the microphone right out of Ms. Swift's hand as she was giving her acceptance speech. He then told the crowd that Beyonce's video deserved to win, leaving poor Taylor to stand there in stunned humiliation as the cameras panned away.
But, since Kanye West is black and Taylor Swift is white, everyone rightly assumed that he is just a jerk with a god complex who thinks his opinion is more important than anyone else's. No one reads into it any further than that (nor should they).
But, if you reversed the race of the two performing artists, can you imagine the outcry that would ensue? Headlines would scream, "Racist Outburst at the VMAs!" The entire world would be sent to sensitivity training and the jerk who caused the interruption in the first place would be demonized right off the billboard charts, having forever branded himself as a racist.
Instead, we roll our eyes and say, well, Kanye is Kanye. He is a jerk. End of story.
So, in the same vein, why can't we say that Joe Wilson's comment was inappropriate and leave it at that?
Great damage is done when honest disagreements of policy are branded as racist, sexist, or bigoted. Fear of a ruined reputation prevents good and decent people from voicing their opinions, standing up for their values, and challenging corruption and greed.
And no one wins when that happens.