People—at least Jimmy Carter and some talking heads on NPR, whom I’ve been listening to during vast stints of data entry at work—have been saying that Joe Wilson’s “You lie” call-and-response moment was racist, that no congressperson would have been so comfortable shouting down a white man.
That might be true. I don’t know Joe Wilson, so I can’t say what was going through his subconscious at that time. I never thought that Obama’s election was proof that racism in America was over, but it’s been nice to see that—after the media’s initial “Oh my god, we elected a black guy!” squeal (I squealed too)—coverage has been mostly about his policies, and occasionally about his dog. His job is too busy and important to get bogged down in questions of symbolism, even if he serves as and was partially elected as a symbol.
But I keep waiting for someone to talk about where the racism in Joe Wilson’s comment was really directed. Remember, it was in response to Obama’s claim that his health care proposal wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. While the form Wilson’s comment took is debatably racist, its content seems blatantly so. The fact that politicians (Obama included) are in such a hurry to show that they’re against providing health care for undocumented immigrants strikes me as completely racist.
Knowing what a monumental hurdle it will be just to cover American citizens, I’m not so naïve as to think it would be easy or even possible to invite another big group of people onto our creaky, leaky, patched-together life raft of a health care system. But could we at least admit that shoving them back into the water is a shitty thing to do? If the vast majority weren’t poor and non-white, I think we might be more like, “We’ll try to pick you up on the next boat, ‘kay?” We wouldn’t shove and then thump our chests about it.
So did I just call Obama a racist too? I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s a political realist. Just like how, deep in my heart, I want to believe that deep in his heart, he’s all for gay marriage, I want to think that, if he were king instead of president, he’d institute socialized (yeah, I said it) medicine for all U.S. residents regardless of citizenship. That’s what I plan to do when I’m empress.