Former Vice President Walter Mondale has joined his old boss Jimmy Carter in arguing that some of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s agenda is fueled by racial animus.
Asked at an event in Washington late Wednesday whether he agreed with the former president that racism was behind some criticism of Obama, Mondale took a long pause before answering: “Yeah.”
“I don’t like saying it,” Mondale continued. “Having lived through those years, when civil rights was such a bitter issue, and when we argued those things for years, . . . I know that some of that must still be around.”
“I don’t want to pick a person [and] say, ‘He’s a racist,’ but I do think the way they’re piling on Obama–the harshness–you kind of feel it,” he said. “I think I see an edge in them that’s a little bit different and a little harsher than I’ve seen in other times.”
At a screening of a new documentary on his life, “Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story” at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, the 1984 Democratic nominee for president lamented what he called a coarse tone in political life today, telling the audience: “It’s been discouraging to watch this health care debate.”
The euphoria over President Barack Obama’s inauguration is giving way to political reality for African-American lawmakers as Democrats grapple with stubborn challenges facing a long-awaited domestic agenda.
Questions remain about how hard Obama can fight for the anti-poverty, education and health care proposals that helped him win near-universal support from black voters. There also is a growing realization that he will likely face years of criticism–some of it motivated by race–over his administration’s response to a sour economy and other issues.
Some in the CBC acknowledge Obama must govern more from the center to be a successful president. However, many of the group’s more liberal lawmakers expect him to seize the opportunity created by strong Democratic control of Congress to push through initiatives that have long been blocked by Republicans, such as public health insurance and sharp funding increases for urban development.
“We want him to stand strong,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
In a conference call recently, Obama reminded CBC members that most of them represent politically safe districts, and that Democrats must look out for the interests of vulnerable moderates to maintain majorities and achieve their goals.
The CBC conference draws thousands of elected officials, business leaders and other professionals from around the country.
Many attendees said they remain incredibly proud that the nation elected a black president and are optimistic about the future, despite the economy.
“I think for the first time probably in the history of America the black community feels they are in a position of power,” said James Bryant, a union leader from San Francisco. “I think African-Americans think there is no more wall.”
Bryant and others said they anticipated that Obama would face fierce resistance from the right. But some said they don’t understand the intensity and sometimes personal nature of the opposition.