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Jimmy Carter, a good man who was a bad American president, said this the other day:

Carter: 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, that he’s African American. … racism still exists and I think it’s bubbled up to the surface, because of a 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.

Obama disagrees. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this:

Gibbs on behalf of Obama: The president does not believe that that criticism comes based on the color of his skin. We understand that people have disagreements with some of the decisions that we’ve made and some of the extraordinary actions that had to be undertaken by both this administration and previous administrations to stabilize our financial system, to ensure viability of our domestic auto industry.

Carter is right, though his timing might not be the best. Carter tends to do what he thinks is right, the consequences be damned. So, for example, he pushed for human rights in Iran under the Shah even though it led to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. Carter acts morally without thinking ahead.

Obama, on the other hand, goes along to get along. To a sickening degree: He agrees with right-wing talking heads that racism has nothing to do with it. Nothing. It was his policies for saving the banks and the car companies.

He cannot possibly believe that.

Yet, I wonder: Is Carter doing Obama’s bidding? Obama, after all, could never say what Carter said. It needed to be said and said by a white man, one whose opinions would be reported and not be dismissed out of hand.

Obama cannot “cry racism” himself. It would put him in an extremely weak position. And it would not even work: white people have built-in defences against that stuff. It is how they live with themselves.

Yet the racist right is not going to go away. Yesterday it was about his hospital birth record, today it is about health care reform and a sudden, overdone concern for state socialism, tomorrow it will be something else. None of it has the ring of mere policy disagreements. It is too angry and too unreasoned. Because the true issue is not his policy but his race.

The country is at that point in its history where it is liberal enough to elect a black man as president but still too racist for many to accept him as their true president. The nearest comparison I can think of is King James II, a Catholic king of a Protestant England. He was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Like Reagan and the labour unions, Obama needs to force a showdown with the racist right. That is how Martin Luther King dealt with them. We call it Selma.

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