The First Draft: Healthcare, anger and race
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is due to release a proposal Wednesday for reforming the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, giving a boost to President Barack Obama’s top domestic policy goal.
Or maybe not.
Baucus has been working with two fellow Democrats and three Republicans — the so-called Gang of Six– to produce a bipartisan healthcare compromise. None of the other healthcare reform bills introduced so far have had Republican support.
The question is whether the Baucus effort will win over some Republicans. So far even the Republicans negotiating with him have shied away from pledging to vote for the measure.
Opposition to healthcare reform, and other government initiatives, has become increasingly bitter in recent months.
Town hall meetings produced outpourings of anger. Representative Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress. The president’s decision to speak to students on the first day of school prompted some to keep their children home.
The Washington Post reported on the issue Wednesday, saying around the Capitol the previous day “at any given moment, someone was expressing outrage — or counter-outrage.”
Former President Jimmy Carter told NBC News much of the anger was racially motivated.
“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,” Carter said in portions of an interviewed aired Wednesday on the “Today” show.
Carter, who sat down with NBC ahead of his 85th birthday Oct. 1, said the country had come a long way in its racial attitudes, but the “racisim inclination still exists.”
“I think it’s 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,” said Carter, a Georgia native.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz told NBC the anger was not racially motivated, but rather a fear of the future and concern their children will be worse off than they are.
“The anger is not directed just towards Barack Obama. It’s directed towards members of Congress, it’s directed towards the Senate, it’s directed towards the media, towards unions, towards institutions that we feel have failed us,” Luntz said.
But Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociologist, said it was clear racism was a factor, citing those who challenge Obama’s birthplace or objected to the president speaking to schoolchildren.
“How much evidence do you need,” he said. “It amazes me that white Americans are incapable of acknowledging what is before our faces.”
Obama meets with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday. Talks are likely to focus on the slowly recovering global economy, trade issues provoked by U.S. “buy American” rules and the environment.
Photo credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas (Baucus speaks to reporters after Gang of Six meeting Tuesday); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Harper and other Canadian officials outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington Wednesday)