US President Barack Obama does not think racism is “the overriding issue” in the fierce debate surrounding health care, but that tempers are rising over government roles in daily life, according to interviews to be broadcast Sunday.
“Are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? I’m sure there are. That’s not the overriding issue here,” Obama insisted in an excerpt of an interview to be broadcast on the CNN show “State of the Union.”
The US leader, in a media blitz to shore-up popular support for health care reform, is taking to all five major Sunday news shows this weekend, after commandeering prime-time television earlier this month with a major address to Congress on the issue.
Obama has been pushed to weigh in on the controversial issue of race after former president Jimmy Carter claimed racism was driving demonstrations and rhetoric on the president’s health care reform plans and spending policy.
“The overwhelming part of the American population” is much more concerned with how the health care reform proposals will affect them, Obama stressed, according to an interview excerpt released by ABC News.
The “biggest driver” for the more intense opposition to his administration’s proposals, Obama told the network’s “This Week” program, is more likely to be from people who are “passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right.”
The president similarly told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that it is an argument “that’s gone on for the history of this republic — and that is what’s the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another?”
There has been a long-standing debate in the United States on big power plays from the White House, Obama told CNN, which is “usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes.”
The kind of vitriol espoused in the 1930s about then US president Franklin Roosevelt “are pretty similar to the things that are said about me — he was a communist, he was a socialist,” Obama said in an excerpt released Friday by CNN.
“Things that were said about (former US president) Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs were pretty vicious as well,” he added.
Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs moved this week to calm temperatures after Carter said much of the criticism leveled at Obama, America’s first black president, was the result of racism.
“The president does not believe that the criticism comes based on the color of his skin,” Gibbs said.
In an interview with NBC on Tuesday, 84-year-old Carter said he thought that “an overwhelming proportion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, he’s African-American.”
The debate exploded after Republican lawmaker Joe Wilson shouted “You lie,” at the president during a speech to Congress last week, and thousands protested against Obama administration policies in Washington.
Since then, a succession of Democratic lawmakers and political columnists have warned that the heckling and other overt signs of public disapproval not only foster a dangerous climate but also reflect underlying racial bias.