U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s oldest son defended his father against a claim by former President Jimmy Carter that the congressman’s outburst during a speech by President Barack Obama was “based on racism.”
Responding to an audience question at a town hall at his presidential center in Atlanta, Carter said Tuesday that Wilson’s outburst was also rooted in fears of a black president.
“I think it’s based on racism,” Carter said. “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”
But Wilson’s son disputed that.
“There is not a racist bone in my dad’s body,” said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general in South Carolina. “He doesn’t even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won’t comment on former President Carter, because I don’t know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it’s just not in him.”
“It’s unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree–and appropriately disagree–on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it’s absolutely ludicrous. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race.”
Carter, a Democrat, said Joe Wilson’s outburst was a part of a disturbing trend directed at the president that has included demonstrators equating Obama to Nazi leaders.
“Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care,” he said. “It’s deeper than that.”
South Carolina’s former Democratic Party chairman [Dick Harpootlian, who has known Wilson for decades] also said he doesn’t believe Wilson was motivated by racism, but said the outburst encouraged racist views.
“You have a bunch of folks out there looking for some comfort in their racial issues. They have a problem with an African-American president,” he said. “But was he motivated by that? I don’t think so. I respectfully disagree with President Carter, though it gives validity to racism.”
On Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused Democrats of using the race issue to shift attention away from the health care plan.
“President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn’t about race. It is about policy,” Steele said in a statement.
Wilson, a former state senator elected to Congress in 2001, is known as a mild-mannered lawmaker with hard-line conservative views. But he has been confrontational in the past.
In 2003, Wilson called it “unseemly” and a “smear” for the mixed-race daughter of Sen. Strom Thurmond, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, to identify the longtime South Carolina senator as her father after his death.
After a public outcry, he reversed course and said he had the utmost respect for Washington-Williams.
As a state senator, he was an outspoken opponent of efforts to remove the Confederate flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse.