If you ask most people, racism and health care don't have a lot in common, but somehow race has made its way into the United States' health care debate. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that some of the criticism of Obama's health care plan is rooted is racism.
Carter also accused Republican congressman Joe Wilson of being racist because of his outburst during Obama's address to Congress. Wilson's family has denied the accusation and Wilson issued an apology. The House condemned Wilson's actions in a recent resolution. Obama accepted Wilson's apology and said he believes criticism of his health care policy is not racially based.
Carter said the attacks on Obama have been so animated because of race. If not race, what else could get the Republicans so emotional? Perhaps it's the health care debate itself. Ideological differences run deep and are enough to get lawmakers worked up.
Wilson has a right to speak out against Obama's plan but there is a time and place for dissent, and a difference between argument and accusation. His outburst was impolite and disrespectful. The President of the United States deserves a certain degree of respect and he did not get it. Outbursts like Wilson's make it harder for Congress to discuss health care without having things get out of hand. The Republican challenge to health care needs to be civil and focussed on health care policy for it to have any merit.
Race has been an issue in American politics in the past. Posters portraying Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose and a feathered headdress have appeared at recent protests against health care reform. The poster drips of racism and shows that the issue might run deeper than an overly emotional congressman. Race has been a hot-button issue for decades, but in recent years discourse has shifted to class. Unfortunately, race is still a large part of class discussion. If so-called racism is being used as a way to deflect criticisms of health care policy, then it is a low blow. Democrats need to rise above cheap shots if they hope to defend their health care plan.
The American health care debate has been marred by rumors of death panels -- committees designed to allegedly encourage euthanasia -- and racism. The problem is that none of this has much to do with health care. If the U.S. is going to honestly debate health care then they need to set aside lies and straw man arguments and get to the heart of the issue. In all of this discussion of breaches of decorum and racism, health care is nowhere to be found, merely fear-mongering.
Obama's election was a milestone supposed to usher the U.S. in to an era of post-racial politics. Sadly, that era has not arrived. The addition of race to the health care debate is a step in the other direction. Instead of healing the wounds of the past it is bringing them back to the surface. The president should not be criticized based on race, but on his policies.