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Political Notebook

Obama says government role in health care is the issue, not race

September 19, 2009

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President Obama wanted to talk about his health care proposals, but in the early excerpts released of the five interviews he taped yesterday for broadcast tomorrow, race was the focus.

Obama was asked about former president Jimmy Carter’s assertion this week that much of the most vociferous opposition to the president is based on racism. Republicans slammed Carter, saying that the criticism is over his policies on health care and other issues, not race.

“Are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? I’m sure there are,’’ Obama said on CNN. “That’s not the overriding issue here.’’

“I think there are people who are antigovernment,’’ Obama continued. “I think there’s been a longstanding debate in this country - that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes. The things that were said about FDR were pretty similar to the things that were said about me. He was a communist. He was a socialist. Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some New Deal programs were pretty vicious as well.’’

In his interview with ABC, Obama also made the argument that the dispute is really over the role of government.

“Look, I think that race is such a volatile issue in this society, always has been, that it becomes hard for people to separate out race being a sort of part of the backdrop of American society versus race being a predominant factor in any given debate,’’ he said.

“The overwhelming part of the American population, I think, is right now following this debate and they are trying to figure out, ‘Is this gonna help me? Is health care going to make me better off?’ Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right. And I think that that’s probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol.’’

He also did interviews with CBS, NBC, and Univision.

GLOBE STAFF

For GOP, it’s never too early for a presidential straw poll
It’s way early yet, but a gathering of Christian conservative activists in Washington that started yesterday will give another read on the field of Republican presidential hopefuls for 2012.

Today, results are to be announced from a straw poll at the Values Voter Summit. The ballot includes former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, US Representative Ron Paul of Texas, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, US Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

It was a tryout of sorts for who could best take on President Obama, the target of their barbs.

“The audacity of hope has become the audacity of hypocrisy,’’ said Huckabee in a riff on the title of one of Obama’s books.

Romney is scheduled to deliver remarks today. In an interview on CNN yesterday, Romney blasted Obama’s decision to scrap an antiballistic missile defense shield based in Eastern Europe and instead deploy a system targeted at shorter-range missiles from Iran.

Romney said the decision harmed US allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, who had agreed to host the missile system - “kicking sand in their faces,’’ jeopardizes US security and that of it allies, and sends a dangerous message to Russia. “It tells Vladimir Putin that if you bellow loud enough, America will back down,’’ he said.

GLOBE STAFF AND ASSOCIATED PRESS