Jay Ambrose: Absolutely, there's still racism in America. But we just elected a black president in many ways admired even by his critics, we have put all kinds of civil rights laws in place, we have thrown away the worst of the past.
Time and again, Jimmy Carter blames the Middle East's only true democracy, Israel, for the woes in that region while providing excuses for Arab terrorists, and there we have it. This Sunday school-teaching Baptist is an anti-Semite, a hater of Jews, someone whose political views on the subject of Arab-Israeli peace are most persuasively informed by his deep-seated bigotry.
Unfair? Of course it is, but no more unfair than Carter's own recent blather that the extent of opposition to President Barack Obama's policies is driven by racism, an accusation unfounded in any substantive evidence but owing a lot to a game that certain holier-than-thou liberals especially love to play. It's the old ad hominem ruse, the resort to name-calling instead of logical argumentation when the debate gets tough.
If you happen to believe that increasing the minimum wage has a virtually meaningless impact on national take-home pay while costing people jobs, liberals say you lack compassion. If you believe illegal immigration drives down wages for low-income workers while making it harder for them to find employment, liberals say you are prejudiced against Hispanics. If you believe vastly expanded health-care entitlements could be economically ruinous for the United States, some liberals say you are a downright mean, greedy and probably stupid person.
And so now, when something like half the population is getting worried sick about Obama's massive, nation-altering and unaffordable proposals, the easiest response of supporters is to say it's perfectly clear what's up: racism. Their tune is that these whites out there don't think a black is fit to lead us, are going at him like no one has ever gone at a president before and that it is disgusting, awful, scary.
The fact is, of course, that critics have been going after presidents with vitriol, caricature and worse since the days of the founders, and mentioning Rep. Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie" during an Obama speech in the Capitol proves absolutely nothing.
He was one individual immediately and properly criticized by everyone on both sides of the aisle. Democrats loudly booed President George W. Bush when he was giving a speech, and although it was outside the chamber, senators such as the late Ted Kennedy insisted Bush lied us into war in Iraq, in effect saying he slaughtered Americans for personal advantage.
I've watched the town hall protests on TV, and while I think the shouting got out of hand, it was not being directed at a black president. Most of the time, it was being directed at some flabbergasted, pathetically out-of-touch white congressman.
The recent Washington protest was a peaceful affair, and Carter got it wrong when he said he saw a sign saying Obama should be buried with Kennedy. The sign -- utterly distasteful, to be sure -- said to bury Obama's health care plan with Kennedy.
Nothing I read about that protest compared with the shouts of anti-Vietnam college students screaming in the 1960s, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
Yes, of course, absolutely -- there's still racism in America. But we just elected a black president in many ways admired even by his critics, we have put all kinds of civil rights laws in place, we have thrown away the worst of the past. And the examples of persisting racism are not all instances of whites manifesting deplorable attitudes about minorities, but the other way around. One thing that seems to me in some subtle way racist is to make the charge of racism without reasonable, intellectually persuasive arguments, to assume its existence based on nothing more than skin color.
The horror of this kind of thing in a democracy, of course, is that it tends to chill discussion because of the fear that criticizing a black president's actions will be taken as tantamount to bigotry. Carter, who has in fact been accused of anti-Semitic attitudes because of his Middle East stands, ought to know better.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.