Obama tries to skip 'race' track

Obama tries to skip 'race' track

Carter observes Republican lawmakers outburst stem from racism

He woke up on Wednesday to a rapidly intensifying debate about how his race factors into the broader discussion of civility in politics, a question prompted in part by former President Jimmy Carter’s assertion on Tuesday that racism was behind a Republican lawmaker’s outburst against Obama last week as the president addressed a joint session of Congress.

Even before that, several conservatives had accused their liberal counterparts of unfairly tainting them as racists for engaging in legitimate criticism of the White House.

Obama’s response to all this, aides say, has been to tell his staff not to be distracted by the charges and to focus on healthcare and the rest of his policy agenda. “He could probably give a very powerful speech on race, just as he did in the course of the campaign,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama. “But right now his top domestic priority is health care reform. It’s difficult, challenging and complicated. And if he leads by example, our country will be far better off.”

During the presidential campaign, when he disavowed the incendiary remarks of his pastor, the Rev Jeremiah A Wright Jr, he took the opportunity to explain his views on race in America and invite reconciliation. And after he stumbled in July in accusing the police of “acting stupidly” by arresting the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, he used the occasion for what he called a teachable moment.

But this time the White House has made clear that it does not want to engage on the topic, which beyond threatening to distract attention from the healthcare push could also put further strain on  Obama’s broad but tenuous electoral coalition of liberals and moderates, Democrats and independents. Signaling that he had no intention of lending his voice to Carter’s accusation, the president declined to answer a reporter’s question on the subject in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

And his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters again and again at the daily White House briefing that Obama did not share  Carter’s views on the motivations of Representative Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who shouted “You lie!” during  Obama’s address.