President Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged that some Americans don’t like him because of the color of his skin — but argued that the vast majority of his political opponents simply disagree with him on the merits of the issues.
He offered that same answer – virtually word for word — to questions about race posed by some of the five Sunday show anchors he sat down with Friday at the White House.
To George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said, “Are there some people who don’t like me because of my race? I’m sure there are. Are there some people who voted for me only because of my race? There are probably some of those too.”
To John King of CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said: “Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government.”
And to David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said: “Look, I said during the campaign, are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me and my candidacy? Absolutely. Sometimes they vote for me for that reason. Sometimes they vote against me for that reason. I’m sure that was true during the campaign. I’m sure that’s true now.”
Obama has long sought to steer clear of racial issues, both in his candidacy and in the White House, but the issue was raised this week by former President Jimmy Carter, who said Tuesday that there’s “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president,” and that that feeling drives some of the anti-Obama dissent. In the interviews, Obama rejected Carter’s argument that most of the opposition is racially based.
The five television networks that interviewed Obama Friday are allowed to use one sound-bite – and one sound-bite only – in their newscasts this evening and in their Sunday show promos this weekend. CBS and Univision also took part of the interviews.
In the interviews, however, Obama sought to portray the opposition as a true difference of opinion about the role of government
“I think that what’s driving passions tight now is that health care has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in the economy. Even though we’re having a passionate disagreement here, we can be civil to each other. And we can try to express ourselves acknowledging that we’re all patriots, we’re all Americans, and not assume the absolute worst in people’s motives,” Obama told Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“I do think that part of what’s different today is the 24 hours news cycle. And cable television and blogs and all this – they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can’t get enough of conflict. It’s catnip to the media right now. So the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody,” Obama added.
He told Stephanopoulos, “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."
With King, Obama sought to place himself in the company of past presidents who have faced scrutiny.
“I mean, the things that were said about FDR are pretty similar to the things that were said about me, that he was a communist, he was a socialist,” Obama said. “Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs, you know, were -- were pretty vicious, as well.”
And after Gregory himself raised the question of how much of the criticism of Obama was driven by the left vs. right argument over the role of government, Obama agreed.
“I think you actually put your finger on what this argument’s really about, and it’s an argument that’s gone on for the history of this republic, and that is, what’s the right role of government? How do we balance freedom with our need to look after one another? . . . This is not a new argument and it always invokes passions.”