In her most recent New York Times column, Maureen Dowd calls South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson a racist. In his interview with Fox News yesterday, Wilson defended himself as non-racist by saying that his family is from the next town over from Michelle Obama’s family in South Carolina. He said that is why he has “great respect for the Obama family.” Why? Because her ancestors used to be his ancestors’ slaves? Because he actually has something in common with her, even though she’s black?

Wilson’s commitment to the Old South is further displayed when he says that he was not wrong to call Obama a liar. Wilson said that although the House bill specified that health benefits are intended only for US citizens, because the bill did not contain ID verification provisions, the language was meaningless, implying that Obama and Democrats secretly intend to offer public health care to illegal immigrants. This is an absurd leap, similar to most of the lies and claims being hurled by the exteme Right at health care reform.

Wilson should be rebuked at every level. And so should Republican politicians who stoke the claims of Birthers, Palin and other liars about health care reform. I agree with Dowd: the false assertions about the bill including Wilson’s outburst are racially motivated. Whether it is Tea Party anti-government rhetoric, Birthers’ lies or Palin’s “death panels” the point is the same as it was 30 years ago when Lee Atwater and the RNC devised their Southern Strategy: promote low taxes and smaller government as a way to deprive “welfare queens” and other minorities of their uppity new laws and benefits — a policy and agenda that exploits the racist hatred of mostly poorer, southern white Americans and lines the pockets of industrial titans who benefited from the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind: a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the richest 1% in America.

Obama should start work on a new speech as a follow-up to last week’s fine presentation on health care and to his first race speech last year. If Obama can marginalize the racists instead of letting them dominate the debate, perhaps he stands a chance of getting health care reform passed. By continuing to attack the lies and hatred of the extreme Right, we might finally enjoy policies that are in the public interest. Policies that balance markets and government for the benefit of a majority, instead of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush era policies that mainly helped the privileged few.

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