- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

A police episode in Massachusetts. A voter rights case in Philadelphia. An offhand remark by his attorney general. A Supreme Court nominee’s speech. And now a congressman’s shout of “You lie!”

Barack Obama, the man who broke through America’s final racial barrier to become the nation’s first black president, has been unable to escape the country’s awkward dialogue about race during his first months in office, a conundrum that has been imposed by members of the political left and right who increasingly appear to feel comfortable using the race card to score political points.

Former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, was the latest to stray into the race debate, suggesting that Rep. Joe Wilson’s now infamous “You lie” shout during the president’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress last week was an act of Old South racism.

Mr. Obama had sought to quickly detach himself from the Wilson drama, politely accepting the South Carolina Republican’s apology by phone. But then members of the president’s own party, pressed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, insisted on staging a mostly party-line vote to reprimand the lawmaker. And what started as a health care dispute over illegal immigrants soon strayed into race.

The White House wanted no part of the latest bait. “I’m not sure I see this large national conversation going on right now,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.

Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic strategist and a DNC vice chairman, sees the situation as lose-lose.

“Carter’s comments on race is now being used by some to re-ignite a hollow conversation on racism in America,” she said on Twitter. “No one wins by touching race in such a shallow way. Automatically raises defenses and creates a backlash. Come together for a serious talk.”

During the summer, Mr. Obama caused a racial firestorm when he said a white police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested a black Harvard professor who had forced his way into his home after his front door got stuck, prompting a call to police from a neighbor. The issue dominated news coverage for a week, muting the president’s call for health care reform and ending only after professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley joined Mr. Obama for a beer in the White House Rose Garden.

It was one of several racially tinged debates that have erupted since Mr. Obama, the son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan, was elected president by winning 43 percent of the white vote, 95 percent of the black vote, 67 percent of the Hispanic vote and 62 percent of the Asian vote.

• In February, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declared the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” for skirting the issue of race in their private lives during a Black History Month event at the Justice Department. It was his first major speech after being confirmed.

• In May, reacting to comments by Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee that a “wise Latina” would be a better judge than a white man, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Judge Sonia Sotomayor a “racist” and said she should withdraw her nomination. He withdrew his remark, and she is now on the bench.

• In September, a report in The Washington Times spurred an investigation into the dismissal of charges against members of the New Black Panther Party who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place during the November elections. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has twice asked Mr. Holder’s Justice Department to explain its action.

On Tuesday, Mr. Carter reignited a national debate that’s been brewing since Mr. Wilson’s outburst. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine last week refused to reject the notion that racism - rather than policy objections - motivates recalcitrant Republicans.

“There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president,” Mr. Carter said during a town hall meeting at his presidential center in Atlanta.

The former president and Democratic members of Congress are playing politics, Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show. He was formally reprimanded by the House on Tuesday.

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