Did we really need Jimmy Carter to tell us that racism is one of the driving forces behind the relentless and often scurrilous attacks on President Barack Obama? We didn't know that? As John McEnroe might say, "You can't be serious!"
"There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president," said Carter. I guess he was aiming his remarks at those who contended when Obama was elected that we had achieved some Pollyannaish postracial society. But it's hard to imagine, after all the madness and vitriol of the past few months, that anyone still believes that.
For many white Americans, Barack Obama is nothing more than that black guy in the White House, and they want him out of there. (Carter knows a little something about kowtowing to that crowd. During his presidential campaign in 1976, he blithely let it be known that he had no problem with residents "trying to maintain the ethnic purity of their neighborhoods," and he tossed around ugly terms like "black intrusion" and "alien groups." He later apologized.)
More than three decades later we have Sherri Goforth, an aide to a Republican state senator in Tennessee, sending out a mass e-mail of a cartoon showing dignified portraits of the first 43 presidents, and then representing the 44th - Obama - as a spook, a cartoonish pair of white eyes against a black background.
When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama's ancestors.
Among the posters at the recent gathering of conservative protesters in Washington was one that said, "The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin' African."
These are bits and pieces of an increasingly unrestrained manifestation of racism directed toward Obama that is being fed by hate-mongers on talk radio and is widely tolerated, if not encouraged, by Republican Party leaders. It's disgusting, and it's dangerous. But it's the same old filthy racism that has been there all along and that has been exploited by the GOP since the 1960s.
I have no patience with those who want to pretend that racism is not an out-and-out big deal in the United States, as it always has been. We may have made progress, and we may have a black president, but the scourge is still with us. And if you needed Jimmy Carter to remind you of that, then you've been wandering around with your eyes closed.
Glenn Beck, one of the moronic maestros of right-wing radio and TV, assures us that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people." Some years ago, as the watchdog group Media Matters for America points out on its Web site, Beck said he'd like to beat Rep. Charles Rangel "to death with a shovel."
There is nothing new about this racist rhetoric. Back in the 1970s, Rush Limbaugh told a black caller: "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
But the fact that a black man is in the White House has so unsettled much of white America that the lid is coming off the racism that had been simmering at dangerously high temperatures all along.
Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow with Media Matters, said, "If someone had told me in February that there would be mainstream allegations that Obama was a racist and a fascist and a communist and a Nazi, I wouldn't have believed it."
Republicans have been openly feeding off of race hatred since the days of Dick Nixon. Today's conservative activists are carrying that banner proudly. What does anybody think is going on when, as Anderson Cooper pointed out on CNN, one of the leaders of the so-called tea party movement, Mark Williams, refers to the president of the United States as an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug, and a racist in chief?
After all these years of race-baiting and stirring the pot of hatred for political gain, it's too much to ask the leaders of the Republican Party to step forward and denounce this spreading stain of reprehensible conduct. Republicans are trying to ride that dependable steed of bigotry back to power.
But it's time for other Americans, of whatever persuasion, to take a stand, to say we're better than this. They should do it because it's right. But also because we've seen so many times what can happen when this garbage gets out of control.
Think about the Oklahoma City bombing, and the assassinations of King and the Kennedys. On Nov. 22, 1963, as they were preparing to fly to Dallas, a hotbed of political insanity, President John F. Kennedy said to his wife, Jaqueline: "We're heading into nut country today."