WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s spokesman publicly disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday over Carter’s contention that some conservative opposition to Obama is based on race.
“The president does not think it is based on the color of his skin,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
Carter injected race into Obama’s struggle for a healthcare overhaul after South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouted “You lie” at Obama during a healthcare speech in Congress last week and thousands of conservatives rallied opposition to Obama 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.
He said this “racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the 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 it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.”
Carter’s remark drew the condemnation of Michael Steele, the first African-American to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy,” he said in a statement. “This is a pathetic distraction by Democrats to shift attention away from the president’s wildly unpopular government-run healthcare plan that the American people simply oppose.”
Obama, America’s first black president, was steering clear of the issue, weeks after he injected himself into a debate about race in Massachusetts after black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his own home on suspicion of breaking into it.
After Obama created an uproar by saying that Cambridge, Massachusetts, police had acted stupidly in the case, he later expressed regret for the tone of his remarks and had the professor and police officer to the White House for a beer in what was dubbed a “beer summit.”
Gibbs said the uproar among Obama’s opponents was more likely a reaction to some of the decisions Obama had made to help the U.S. economy, such as bank and auto bailouts.
“We understand that people have disagreements with some of the decisions that we’ve made,” he said.
Editing by Peter Cooney