Protests against Obama: race or policy?

September 16, 2009

Former President Jimmy Carter said out loud what Democrats had been whispering for a while, that the protests against the country’s first black president are tinged with racism.

USA-POLITICS/Carter’s forceful words threw the issue into the forefront of public debate.

“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 in an interview on NBC.

While others had raised the issue, it wasn’t until Carter’s blunt words that it reached a crescendo as loud as the protests.

Carter mentioned his southern roots in saying ”that racism inclination still exists” in the country and many white people believe African Americans are not qualified to be president.

Critics of Obama have protested at town hall meetings around the country, rallied in Washington, and even yelled out on the floor of the House of Representatives (Congressman Joe Wilson’s “you lie”).

Michael Steele, the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, issued a statement that said: “President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy.” USA-POLITICS/REPUBLICANS

Steele accused Democrats of trying to shift attention away from the president’s unpopular healthcare plan.

“Characterizing Americans’ disapproval of President Obama’s policies as being based on race is an outrage and a troubling sign about the lengths Democrats will go to disparage all who disagree with them,” he said.

Obama did not respond to a shouted question by a reporter about Carter’s racism comments.

UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that Obama doesn’t believe the criticism is racist. “The president does not believe that it’s based on the color of his skin.”

Is there an objective barometer for whether a protest is based on racism or policy?

What do you think? Are the protests about race or policy or both?

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer (Carter at 2008 Democratic National Convention), Reuters/Molly Riley (Steele after being elected RNC chairman in January)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

I think that President Carter is spot on. What is worse is that we as this Super Power think we should be beyond this race issue, but we aren’t. And just like many other unpopular social issues, we in America don’t deal with them, we stifle them until they boil over. I think that the fury Mr. Carter’s statement has shown, is that many in this country have a very short memory. He said that the “overwhelming portion”, not all of it. And what this blog fails to point out as well as all of the other articles I have read, is that is that Mr. Carters actual comments also included, “it is an abomination”.

As for Mr. Steele’s comments about policy, well lets be real, has anyone read the proposed bills? People are getting upset at rhetoric, not facts. The republican base is great at that, and they also know that many American’s still have a race issue. It is a combination for a molotov cocktail.

It is a shame that many cannot see what Mr. Carter has done, he has spoke the truth, and with as difficult as it may be to swallow, it is time to determine what is motivating you, rhetoric, race, or facts?

Posted by anamericancynic | Report as abusive

I disagree with the Obama policies and it’s not because of his race no more than it’s racist for me to disagree with Pelosi and Reid and Frank and all the others who think they know what is best for us and we should just keep our mouths shut and accept it. To the contrary, I think most of us gave him a chance because he was black and we wanted him to succeed. His abilities were way overblown by the press and even our party just to get a Dem elected. They may already wish they had told the truth. Carter desperately wants Obama to succeed as a great president because he has been compared to Carter, not in a complimentary way I should add. Great president is not going to be one of the adjectives describing Obama…inexperienced, incompetent, darling of the east coast media…yes…. great president no.

Posted by lezah2 | Report as abusive

I do agree that this is true.
We have chance to change something after 8 years living in the darkness. I am white but hate any intolerance.
I do know the filling – was part of discriminated minority ethnic group in eastern Europe.
God bless our president and the country.


Posted by Piotr | Report as abusive

Osama B on several occasions recommends Americans listen to Jimmy Carter because JC provides aid and comfort for his cause. This latest outburst is no exception. Those here supporting JCs rant reveal their own bigotry. No president is above criticism of the people regardless of the color of their skin and every president to date has had to face this.

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

C’mon people! Racism?? Really? It is convenient for Obama supporters to say “racism” when the question should really be “Was Obama deliberately stating something untrue regarding illegal aliens (or undocumented visitors, or whatever politically correct term you would like to use so I don’t get labeled racist)and the healthcare bill?”

Let’s see: Until today, we only had HR3200 to go on. In the section for excise fines for not having healthcare, monitored by the IRS, undocumented persons are specifically excepted from the fines. Why? Because most DO NOT file their 1040s. So in effect, American taxpayers who choose not to buy a plan forced on them through this healthcare bill pay a fine (excise tax)to help cover the ones who should not be entitled to it. But illegals can come here and still get “free” healthcare.

And that is why Wilson said “you Lie!”. Obama fully intends that the Americans who pay taxes are going to be compelled to cover the costs of those who deliberately don’t pay income taxes because of their illegal status.

Posted by Ellen | Report as abusive

It’s simple … anyone who disagrees with Obama is racist and anyone who is not a liberal should not be allowed to voice an opinion. Gee, and I used to think that part of being Liberal, was ACCEPTING other’s views.

Posted by pm | Report as abusive

If you think race isn’t an issue in the right’s rabid reaction to the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, just have a look at some video of Glenn Beck’s “9-12 Project” gathering in Washington D.C. last weekend.

There was a lot more to it than just standard-issue anti-Obama sentiments being aired in the streets. Layered beneath the whole scene was a hard vein of bitter racism the participants didn’t even try to hide.

Packs of “tea party patriots” shuffled down Pennsylvania Avenue proudly waving signs. “The Long Legged Mack Daddy,” “Where’s the Birth Certificate?,” “Mississippi Freedom Riders,” “Whoa Boys, I’ll Take it from Here” (Obama waving to black and Islamic militants). Many defiantly waved Confederate flags and the Texas state flag (the current separatist movement emblem). Meanwhile, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, Republican Congresspersons Mike Pence, Phil Gingrey and Marsha Blackburn, and organizer mouthpiece scandal-plagued former House majority leader Dick Armey profusely swore that the march had nothing to do with race, politics, or even President Obama. The racist flags, symbols and signs, though, gave big lie to their profuse denials. Racism was on full and ugly display on the Capitol Mall. No attempt was made to mask it. Some protesters seemed quite proud to openly send a message about race and Obama.

These teabag parties represent the newly disenfranchised white, rural voter – the backbone of the Republican Party and its Southern Strategy.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

Getplaning this racist chant is being used to often, people are expecting it crop up when the Democrats have their backs against the ropes.It is good now that independents are getting maligned as well,because it causes ordinary people to stop and reflect on these groundless accusations,and after a reexamination they become sceptical about all the other exaggerations you guys are trying to get people to swallow,like the single payer system will be cost free.Keep up the good work you guys, Obama,s polls numbers are tanking all the time.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

What about …. the many whites who VOTED for Obama and now are totally against his ‘agenda’ and what he is trying to do. I guess this means they were not racist when they voted for him, but are NOW racist that they don’t like what he is doing. Everyone who disagrees is now a ‘redneck’, which, by the way IS a REVERSE racial derogatory comment.

Posted by pm | Report as abusive

Be clear. Carter didn’t say that the protests were motivated by racism. He was careful with his words, attributing racist motives only to “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward Barack Obama.” This is an apt description of protesters exhibiting the most extreme vehemence and vitriol at the person, not his policies.

Posted by matty b | Report as abusive

brian, you keep saying that Obama’s poll numbers are tanking. While they had fallen in previous weeks, they are rising slightly now.

But there is something you have avoided- Poll numbers for the conservative opposition have remained where they are.

Way, way down, and not rising at all. Keep waving those signs.

Posted by getplaning | Report as abusive

Kudos to President Obama for getting in front of the argument over whether or not the heated debates and disagreements are related to race.

See:  /policy/19obama.html?_r=1&hp

and es/2009/09/19/obama_says_government_role _in_health_care_is_the_issue_not_race/

Thank you, Mr. President.

Posted by Mark Boabaca | Report as abusive

Getplaning, today friday Gallup poll, people who think Obama will achieve his goals in the health debate 30%,people who think he will not 60%get your head out of the sand you ostrich!anyway, grudgingly enjoy your weekend.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Jimmy Carter has become a Disgrace.

I voted for him, and I did not blame him for a helicopter crashing into a plane during a dust storm. I also was not sure he was responsible for Stag-Flation and long Gas lines in the late 70’s [economies go in cycles and presidents don’t always have much immediate control over them – they have often been compared to Quarterbacks: to much credit for a Win, and too much blame for a Loss].

However: ……………

He Revealed the ‘Stealth Program’ (Highly Classified, & Never mentioned by the Media) years before it should have been revealed, because he was sliding in the polls against Reagan (I could never really find a way to justify his actions on that one), –he Lost the election !!

His constant Talking about His ‘Carter Center’ came across as Shameless Advertising (like someone with a new Business or Product finding themselves on TV for the first time,) and an attempt to Resurrect his “Legacy”.

He Blames the Israelis 100% for the problems with the palestinians (one sided & Absolute to a fault).

He has an On-Going FUDE with the Clintons (Why I thought Liberals were ForGiving, and not Grudgey).

Now he lays down a Broad Brush Stereotype about ‘most’ Southerners & anyone dis-agreeing with O’bum. (why I thought Liberals were too Open-Minded & Compassionate to Stereotype people). It is not possible in his mind that people think a HUGE Governmental Medical Program could introduce major new “Glitches & Inefficiencies” that could ‘Mire’ the whole system for 10-20 years (if they could ever be worked out) and ‘Balloon the Budget’ (far beyond anything Bush did) to an Un-Retrievable point…………Why NO, these concerns could “not possibly” explain Most of the opposition.

As I said:…. Jimmy Carter has become a Disgrace.

Posted by Da Truth | Report as abusive

Opposition to Obamacare is about FINES, PENALTIES, ‘CONTRIBUTIONS’, new TAXES. The majority will likely end up losing their TAX-FREE employer-provided med/dent benefits as one of many unintended consequences.

Opposition to Obamaspend is about trillions in new federal DEBT.

Opposition to Obama’s Russian appeasement viz a viz Eastern European missile defense retooling is about the fact that the Russians would twist Iranian arms only if the Iranians posed a threat to THEM.

And opposition to Obama’s ‘war of necessity’ is about the fact that the toppling of the Taliban gov’t back in late 2001 was as good as it gets for us and the Afghans.

Posted by dom youngross | Report as abusive