BY Juan Williams
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Wednesday, September 16th 2009, 10:27 PM
President Obama answers a reporter’s question in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Every American President in a furious political fight is going to be criticized, and a black President does not get a pass. It is condescending to think that a man of Barack Obama’s intellect and political skills needs to be coddled.
But Carter is right on one big and important point: The pattern of attacks on Obama suggests that there are people who don’t accept the idea that this man, the first black man to win the highest office in the land, is really the President.
These critics seem less interested in arguing about health care proposals than in building the case that Obama is not legitimately our national leader.
They charge Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore doesn’t meet the requirements that all Presidents be native-born.
They make this argument even when all Hawaiian documents, officials and news stories of his birth conclusively prove he is an American.
There are critics who claim he is Muslim, not a Christian, despite all testimony about his years in the controversial church of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
To even hint that the President is a secret Muslim in an era when radical Muslims have killed thousands of Americans is to suggest a Manchurian candidate who is intent on destroying America.
Then there are claims that Obama is a Socialist who is trying to subvert America by ending the free-market economy. Some of this is explicitly racial, as when the argument is made that Obama’s efforts at health care reform are really a plot to get reparations for slavery for black Americans.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) ratcheted up the racial heat when he shouted out “You lie!” as the President spoke to Congress. No white President – that is to say all who have come before – has ever had to put up with such contempt.
There is a circumstantial case to be made that Wilson, with a history of membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and support for flying the Confederate flag over his state’s capitol, is not above playing racial politics.
Wilson has gone so far as to claim that former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond‘s daughter, born of a black woman, was slurring Thurmond by rightly saying he is her father.
And don’t forget that Wilson’s outrage was directed at Obama for saying his health care plan will not cover illegal immigrants. As a point of fact, the President told the truth. Wilson’s attack suggested not only that Obama was lying, but that he was lying in support of a plan to help fellow immigrants.
At some point, it is hard to ignore the common thread in this criticism: It is an effort to say that Obama is not one of us, not like us. And at that point, it is not crazy to ask the critics if they mean he is not one of them because of the color of his skin.
It is possible to be critical of Obama’s health care plan without bringing race into the debate, but many critics are burning to prove that this President, our only nonwhite head of state, is not legitimate.
In a country with a terrible history of racial violence, that is more than a little frightening.