September 18th, 2009
12:00 PM ET

It's a black, white, and gray thing

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Sometimes, even in the jaded world of been-there-done-that journalism, when I’m flipping through the headlines with a world-weary glance, I still see something that makes my eyes pop like a cartoon character. And this week it is a Rasmussen poll addressing this thorny issue of race and politics.

Or I suppose I should say it’s thorny if you see it that way.

Let me explain. The Rasmussen folks posed a question to the effect of: Do you think opposition to President Obama’s health care reform plan is based on racism? 88 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of unaffiliated voters said “No way.” But among Democrats that number plummeted to just 39 percent. The poll goes on to say that 22 percent of them take it much farther, saying the opposition to health care reform is primarily racist, and the rest of the Dems at least suspect that could be so.

In simple terms: Many Republicans and independents say health care reform is in trouble because people don’t trust the policy. Many Democrats say it’s because Barack Obama is black.

It is impossible to prove which perspective is correct. Race is one of those incredibly dicey areas in which people are hesitant to reveal their true feelings. It’s kind of like surveys about infidelity. There is always the nagging fear for the respondent that somehow the cloak of anonymity will be ripped aside, and their secret views will be exposed to the world…or in the case of infidelity, to the wife.

Make no mistake: Most voters do not believe the Obama Presidency is being unduly hurt by racist leanings, and plenty of critics have pointed out that he won the office because of enormous support from whites.

But frankly the “real truth” about whether racism is at play probably doesn’t matter much. In politics, perceptions often trump reality, and these numbers suggest the perceptions are running so deep, that they are fundamentally altering the debate.

Think about it. If you support President Obama, and believe that those who are pushing against him are doing so just because they are bigots, why would you even bother to listen to their complaints about his policies? By the same token, if you are on the other side and believe his supporters are simply screaming racism because their cause is philosophically flawed, why would you take the trouble to consider their political position?

Still, that is the fix in which we find ourselves, and there is no reason to believe it will stop with health care. But it could stop honest debate as we know it. And honest debate in D.C. is already in short supply.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Rudy Cook

    I find it rather odd that for years leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many other African Americans leaders who have experienced racism and has fought continoulsy against racism has so easily been left out of the racism debate! Micheal Steele is not qualified to speak on racism when he defends the very political party that's promoting or encouraging the racist remarks, signs etc. Mr. Steele until you can explain what watermelons on the front lawn, President Obama being represented as a Nazi or monkey, bringing guns to a presidential function, or your Republican leaders refusing to address these issues has to do with policy I suggest that you continue to do what you've been doing speak when they tell you to and come when you are called.

    September 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  2. Isabel Siaba, Brazil

    The fact of President Obama has a formal education enabled him to exceed the boundaries of the world, world which is much more white than black, but not free him from the racism that he already must have faced a lot in life.

    September 18, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  3. V. Powell

    Please tell those protesting against health care reform that if you have insurance you are paying too much. and those without insurance the American citizens do not care.

    Those people suffering doesn't matter, what matters are: death squards, keeping your doctor, not having to depend on a stupid government to run things, providing health care to illegals.

    These are the things that makes America the envy of the world.

    September 18, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  4. frank

    All you have to do is watch video of protests and count how many blacks, or other minorities, arethere. I have yet to see any. I believe racism is playing a part in this, but, its also clear that ths has to do more with rich Americans not wanting their way ofl ife touched in any way to help the poor. That's a shame when you consider how much tax money has, and is, being spent everday to help the rich CEOs and foreign countries while our own citizens go hungry. It's not just black and white, it's the ancient battle between the rich and the poor. These feelings didn't just start this generation it has always been this way.

    September 18, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  5. Melissa

    Honestly, I no longer listen to Republicans complaints because its like listening to whiny children, even if they do have a point. Because all they ever do is complain and they wouldn't know bipartisan if it bit them on the butt. Not to mention that them bragging about how they have these great morals, then proving that they lied through their teeth so often, makes them look like fools.

    They look like high school bullys. And frankly, I'm sick of it.

    September 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  6. Michael C. McHugh

    I think it is mainly in trouble because the insurance companies do not want a public option. Their plan is the one they wrote with Senator Baucus, which will require everyone to be private health insurance from them or pay a fine. I have been saying this for months.

    It would be better–and cheaper–to cover the unemployed by expanding Medicare and Medicaid, even over the adamant opposition of teh insurance industry. And I KNOW it gives a lot of money to politicians from both parties.

    Of course conservatives are playing the Race Card to mobilize their base against Obama and his reforms. Things like that have been going on in America since colonial times, and it will keep working as long as there is enough racism among whites that can be mobilized in this way.

    September 18, 2009 at 12:10 pm |