- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As serious debate on health care reform heats up, Democrats have taken to outright accusing those who oppose President Obama’s health care reform plan as borderline racists. If you ask folks like Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and other Democrats, Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, and all his Republican cronies are nothing but pure racists.

Racism so infests their minds that they can traditionally look at the policies they’re sworn to deliberate (or perhaps they simply have trouble seeing the issues through the slotted holes in their Klan sheets). To hear New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd explain this syndrome, the Republican white guys in the room can’t resist the nervous twitch to shout “boy!” whenever they see the president. I’d share her column with you to read for yourself, but apparently she thinks someone would actually pay to see her pabulum.

Some days, I just shake my head at Mr. Clyburn, because the things that come out of his mouth are more entertaining than lucid. But Tim Kaine? The moderate governor should know better. His speech Friday insinuating that race - or worse, racism - was the principal motivating factor behind the opposition of Republican leaders and their followers is beyond absurd. Even he doesn’t believe it. Because if he did, he wouldn’t have demurred and become slack-jawed when reporters tried to pin him down on his position. Somebody, call Howard Dean; the Obama brainwashing procedure worked well, but not well enough.

This is lunacy. But instead of rising above it, House Democrats want revenge. I’m so tired of politicians who feign outrage on issues involving a black gentleman and a white gentleman but have nothing to do with race. Does the left honestly believe there would be any less criticism or fewer passionate outbursts if President Hillary Clinton had proposed universal health care? If you ask a Democrat (or someone shilling for them, like Miss Dowd), we’d be talking about Mr. Wilson’s sexist remarks. You see, the context of the moment, the character of the individual, or even the apology afterwards doesn’t matter to the “race-chasers.”

It’s the oldest play in the book: Ignore the message; attack the messenger. Drop an “-ism” and watch his or her opponents scatter. What next? Is every criticism of the president now subject to a racial filter? Are we to ask every opponent of the president, “Is there hatred in your heart when you say that?”

If so, then maybe the health care debate is increasingly about race - just in a way that no one is talking about. If the rousing fact of an American black president gives Democrats license to deliberately confuse every contested issue by merely labeling and dismissing their critics as racists, then the national debate will be short-circuited - because of racism. Who could have thought that racial issues would become worse - not better - with Barack Hussein Obama as our president?

I am reminded of France’s recent imposition of rules banning students from wearing head scarves in public schools. Apparently, the French think that by shutting their eyes to a symbol of the Muslim religion, radical religious dissent would somehow just flake and peel away. But eliminating a symbol does not equate to social change. Indeed, preventing people from discussing diverse ideas only stimulates hatred. It is through the friction of diverse ideas that fears are raised to consciousness for examination. This is how democracy functions - by allowing people who disagree to engage in a meaningful dialogue.

The same lessons apply here: Just as silence does not equate to social justice, impassioned dissent does not equate to racism. The friction of diverse minds is the lifeblood of democracy. When people raise important issues to consciousness, diverse viewpoints are considered, fears are dealt with, and the irrational is (one hopes) countered.

Conversely, democracy collapses inward on itself when complex issues are ignored in favor of race-baiting. Accusing the Republicans of being racists just by virtue of their opposition to President Obama’s plan is not a dialogue. It is group pathology. The fact that it’s gaining traction is truly alarming. We need more - not less - serious debate on whether President Obama’s proposal for a government-sponsored health plan will bankrupt the country. Yet these important issues are lost when the Democrats increasingly dismiss their critics by simply extrapolating racism.

These final few months represent the administration’s best chances for pushing the health care measure through both chambers. And yet, instead of spending this week deeply focused on what a public option could mean to taxpayers and working through an intraparty compromise, Democrats would rather take to the floor and insinuate racism.

America took a giant step forward in electing as president an immensely intelligent and competent man - who happens to be black. We do a disservice to the cultural and institutional reforms of the last 50 years by engaging in race-based politics. Moving beyond the terrible stain of slavery means resisting the urge to label political opponents racist - merely by virtue of their opposition. Yes, Joe Wilson’s decision to bark “You lie!” lacked tact, respect and the professionalism that is necessary as a member of that elite body. But it also underscored a seething fear and discontent over whether President Obama’s plan will bankrupt our nation. This is a very real concern - and one that has nothing to do with race.

The country is in the midst of a crisis, but not a health care crisis. We are in the midst of a fiscal crisis and a crisis of confidence in the government’s ability to solve this crisis. It is particularly ironic that the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history is lecturing Wall Street about financial responsibility. This is not the time for politicians to try to solicit knee-jerk voter responses by engaging in race-baiting.

The fact that some politicians continue to use this crutch by dismissing critics of Mr. Obama’s plan as racist only exemplifies their profound selfishness. It clearly shows the American people that the president’s health care proposals are on life-support and the vital signs are weakening daily. Rather than appealing to race-based discontent, we must engage in genuine discourse. How, one wonders, could this rousing point be lost on so many of our elected leaders?

• Armstrong Williams can be heard nightly on Sirius/XM Power 169 Monday-Friday, 9 to 10 p.m.