The First Draft: Bill Clinton on race and the healthcare debate

September 22, 2009

Bill Clinton has tons of respect for Jimmy Carter. But he doesn’t agree that racism is a driving factor behind angry opposition to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform agenda. OBAMA/

Like Carter, Clinton is a former Democratic governor of a Southern state who has spent years battling entrenched racism against blacks.

“I sympathize with where President Carter’s coming from. If you’re a white southerner and you’ve fought these battles a long time, you’re super-sensitive to any kind of discrimination based on race,” Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Carter, a former Georgia governor, raised the issue of race after U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie” at Obama during the president’s healthcare speech to Congress this month. Thousands of conservatives also rallied in opposition to the president at demonstrations in Washington.

“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 told NBC News.

Obama, the first black U.S. president, later said he believed some opposition had to do with race. But he denied Carter’s charge that racism was a leading factor.

Clinton sounded a similar note.

“Some of the extreme Right who oppose him on healthcare also are racially prejudiced,” said Clinton, who lost his own bid to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system during his first term as president.

“But I believe that if he (Obama) were not an African-American, all the people who are agaBOLIVIA/inst him on healthcare would still be against him,” he said.

“What’s driving them is: they don’t want healthcare. They don’t want the government, one more time, to take care of people who are left out or left behind. They are philosophically or emotionally — or whatever — opposed to it,” Clinton added.

Clinton said he hopes the current debate will move the United States closer to universal coverage. He would specifically like to see greater use of electronic medical records, better management of chronic diseases that account for the bulk of healthcare costs and a system that encourages care over costly medical procedures.

As for his own foray into healthcare reform, the former president said it all came down to the strength of the Republican opposition led by former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas.

“Senator Dole decided that he wanted to kill all forms of healthcare and he had 45 votes, so he could lose four and still have a filibuster. That’s what really killed healthcare reform,” Clinton said.

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Photo credits: Jim Young/Reuters (Clinton and Obama); David Mercado/Reuters (Carter)


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The difference between the perceptions of Presidents Carter and Clinton reflects the maturing attitude of American whites over a decade plus years vis a vis racism. What’s needed now is for American blacks still predisposed to view ‘whitey’ as suspect to develop a more mature attitude also. A good first step would be to repudiate race-baiters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and… to acknowledge that Bill Cosby (and Booker T. Washington) were right.

Posted by racVT | Report as abusive

I hope it is not racism i loved him on letterman i think he is for the people is family is great i havent found anything about him i dont like

Posted by sandy tumbleson | Report as abusive

What e v e r
Whenever I speak with those opposed to healthcare reform and ANY other agenda the White House is working on (and it is never just one issue being opposed) – always – ALWAYS – the President’s color come in to play. Oh no, these people are not racists – they just oppose policy.
W h a t e v e r

Posted by Elly | Report as abusive

This is absolutly disgusting. I can’t believe that two former American Presidents have drug themselves so low as to call any opposition to President Obama as a racist. No it is the silent majority being reawakened. A silent majority that threw Carter out of the White house. The same mojority that elected President Clinton, President Reagan, and Resident Bush. No the democrats don’t like it when the silent majority isn’t so silent anymore. These political figures believe that they are untouchable and they always forget that we can choose not to elect them as easily as we chose to elect them. End the dems in twenty-ten.

Posted by Adam H. | Report as abusive