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In media blitz, Obama says vitriol isn't racism-based

He'll be all over the Sunday talk shows to promote his healthcare plans.

September 19, 2009|Mark Silva

WASHINGTON — Fear of "big changes" and of the growing role of government -- not racism -- are behind much of the criticism that the White House faces, President Obama said during a sweeping series of television interviews to air Sunday.

His media blitz is intended to promote his healthcare plans. But he confronts much more than that issue in the interviews, which will dominate Sunday morning's news shows.

Excerpts were broadcast Friday evening.

In an interview with CBS News, he dismissed skeptics who think higher taxes are inevitable to support his healthcare overhaul. He reiterated that he will not accept any proposal that imposes new taxes on people making less than $250,000 a year.

In a number of interviews, Obama also addressed the tone of a heated summer debate over healthcare, and President Carter's contention that racism underlies critics' Hitler comparisons and other harsh attacks on Obama.

Obama disagreed with Carter, saying that the invective instead reflected the kind of turmoil that is common "when presidents are trying to bring about big changes."

"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Obama told CNN's John King. "That's not the overriding issue here."

Obama told NBC News' David Gregory, "Look, I said during the campaign, 'Are there some people who still think through the prism of race when it comes to evaluating me or my candidacy?' Absolutely. Sometimes they vote against me for that reason, sometimes they vote for me for that reason."

He took a longer view of his critics' motivations: "It's an argument that's gone on for the history of this republic, and that is, What's the right role of government? . . . This is not a new argument, and it always invokes passions."

Obama's interviews will air Sunday morning on ABC News' "This Week," CBS News' "Face the Nation," NBC News' "Meet the Press" and CNN's "State of the Union," as well as on the Spanish-language Univision network.

The president also addressed subjects including U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan and the government's handling of the swine flu.

On CNN, Obama also talked about the criticisms various presidents have encountered. "I think there are people who are anti-government," he said. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was called a communist for his New Deal initiatives, Obama said, and some of the things said about President Reagan "were pretty vicious as well."

Obama was asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos if it frustrates him when his own supporters "see racism when you don't think it exists."

"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," Obama said.

In an interview with CBS News' Bob Schieffer, Obama addressed the harsh tone of the healthcare debate.

"I think that what's driving passions right now is that healthcare has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy," Obama told Schieffer. "We can be civil here, we can address [each other] acknowledging that we are all Americans, we are all patriots. . . .

"What's different today is that the 24-hour news cycle" promotes controversy, Obama said. "They focus on the most extreme arguments on both sides. . . . The easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody."

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mdsilva@latimes.com

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