Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 10:19 UK

Carter says Obama row is 'racist'

Jimmy Carter: "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president"

Former US President Jimmy Carter says much of the vitriol against President Barack Obama's health reforms and spending plans is "based on racism".

Mr Carter told a public meeting there was "an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president".

Republican lawmaker Joe Wilson was rebuked on Tuesday in a House vote.

He shouted "You lie!" while Mr Obama was delivering an address on healthcare to Congress last Wednesday.

The House resolution of disapproval described it as "a breach of decorum".

The BBC's Mark Mardell
Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor
This debate - which is so difficult to have in America - is beginning to surface. Carter said he thinks an overwhelming proportion of what he calls "the intensely demonstrated animosity" towards President Obama is based on the fact he's a black man.

Regarding Joe Wilson, over the weekend we saw people pointing out that he was once a junior aide to a segregationalist politician - and that he was one of the few politicians to vote for the Confederate flag to fly over the state congress in his home state.

Mr Wilson hasn't answered these allegations.

But conservatives are furious. They think their opponents are playing the race card. They regard it as a cheap shot, because in some ways racism is the worst insult that you can hurl at someone in America.

But Mr Wilson's eldest son, Alan, has denied racism was a factor in his father's outburst.

Some conservatives have accused the president's supporters of playing the race card.


Angry town hall meetings and a recent taxpayers' demonstration in Washington have been vitriolic towards the president, reports the BBC's North America editor Mark Mardell.

Many have not just protested against the president's policies but have accused him of tyranny, and have promised to "reclaim America".

"Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national programme on healthcare," Mr Carter said at a public meeting at his Carter Center in Atlanta held prior to the Congress vote on Tuesday.

"It's deeper than that."

Responding to a question specifically on Mr Wilson's outburst, he said Mr Obama was the head of state as well as the head of government and - like heads of state elsewhere - he should be "treated with respect".

It was a "dastardly thing to do", he said.

His comments were rejected by Joe Wilson's son, Alan, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general in Georgia.

I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people
Rep. Henry Johnson (Georgia)

"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," he said.


In Tuesday's vote, lawmakers voted 240-179 in favour of the resolution to censure Mr Wilson.

The move was backed by most Democrats, but dismissed by many Republicans as a distraction from more serious issues.

"My goodness, we could be doing this every day of the week," said Republican Minority Leader John Boehner.

But Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer insisted that Mr Wilson's outburst could not be ignored.

"At issue is whether we are able to proceed with a degree of civility and decorum that our rules and our democracy contemplate and require," he said.

The moment Republican lawmaker Joe Wilson heckled President Obama

Mr Wilson himself maintained that his personal apology to Mr Obama should have been enough to resolve the matter.

Mr Obama "graciously accepted my apology and the issue is over", he said.

Mr Wilson's remark came in response to a passage of Mr Obama's speech in which he asserted that his reforms "would not apply to those who are here illegally".

Under the terms of Mr Obama's reform package, undocumented immigrants would not be able to claim healthcare subsidies, but they also would not be explicitly barred from buying private insurance through the new health insurance exchanges.

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