President Barack Obama has no plans to wade into the raging debate about race and the role it plays in an increasingly divided public discourse in America.
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said she does not believe the president needs to give a speech about race, as he did last year. "Right now, the president is focused on health care reform," she said, which "the people need.
"The president gave an outstanding speech on race during the campaign," Jarrett said by e-mail this morning. "People should be encouraged to re-read it."
The president will instead remain focused on the difficult and challenging efforts to overhaul health care, she said.
But whether the White House chooses to engage in the issue, the debate is swirling around the president.
Former President Jimmy Carter weighed in Wednesday for the second time in a week.
Speaking at Emory University in Atlanta, Carter blamed "a radical fringe element of demonstrators" for attacking the president. He referenced scattered signs depicting Obama as an animal or a re-incarnation of Adolf Hitler that were seen among the crowd of thousands at a protest rally last weekend in Washington, D.C.
"Those kind of things are beyond the bounds of the way presidents have ever been accepted, even with people who disagree," Carter said. "And I think people that are guilty of that personal attack against Obama have been influenced, to a major degree, by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American."
Many conservatives object to that characterization.
Conservatives Deny Racism Behind Obama Opposition
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh suggested Wednesday that conservatives can't win. "Any criticism of an African-American president's policies, statements or policies, is [seen as] racist. And that's it," Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh has been criticized by some liberals for comments he made on his show Tuesday. He talked about a violent school bus brawl in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis, that was caught on surveillance tape. Two black high school students were suspended after allegedly attacking a white student Monday.
Limbaugh's producers called his words a "send up" of Obama's supposedly harmonious post-racial America.
"Greetings, my friends," Limbaugh began. "Well, it's Obama's America, is it not? Obama's America. White kids getting beat up on school buses now. I mean if you put your kids on a school bus you expect safety but in Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, 'Yeah, right on, right on, right on.' And, of course, everybody says, 'Oh, the white kid deserved it. He was born a racist. He's white.'"
Limbaugh's tone is dripping with sarcasm as he goes on to poke fun at the notion that all white people are racists.
"We know that white students are destroying civility on buses," Limbaugh said. "White students destroying civility in classrooms all over America. White congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives. ? Let's have an open conversation, an honest conversation about all of our typical white grandmothers. You had one. I had one. Obama had one. They're racists just like our students are."
Limbaugh's assistant, Kit Carson, says his audience understands he was being sarcastic.
But even some conservatives are saying that kind of talk is dangerous.
Conservative Media Fueling Debate?
"Even if he was just joking, he was trivializing something that shouldn't be trivialized," said conservative columnist and beliefnet.com blogger Rod Dreher. "And, at a time at our history where people are really anxious, really afraid, this is like throwing a bomb."
The incident comes as debate continues about South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's "you lie" outburst, with many speculating about the GOP congressman's motives for interrupting the president during a congressional address. It also follows an August filled with boisterous, sometimes angry, town hall meetings about proposed health care overhaul.
"The mood on the right is fearful, anxious, people don't know where to turn," Dreher said. "They see this popular president and we have no one on our side to match him. We have no leadership, the only leadership we have, it seems, are people like Rush and [talk-radio and TV host] Glenn Beck and a lot of these talking heads whose stock and trade is being outrageous."
Beck has been vocal about the role of race in the political debate.
In July, Beck said on Fox News, "This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people."
Comments like that have some people deeply concerned.
"We're at a dangerous time in this country right now," Dreher said. "Not only on the right, but also on the left. When people feel that their anger justifies anything ? I am afraid they are going to justify, in their own minds, doing anything. This is going to get ugly."
To be fair, any blatant racism is coming from a minority of conservatives.
While prominent conservative talk-show commentators like Limbaugh and Beck have touched the race issue directly, Republicans on Capitol Hill argue that efforts to portray criticism of Obama as being racially motivated will backfire.
GOP congressional leaders say the conservative uprising is driven not by race but by policies that "tax too much, borrow too much and spend too much."
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did all he could at a briefing Wednesday to downplay talk of race.
"The president does not believe that the criticism comes based on the color of his skin," Gibbs told reporters.
But Carter could not have been more clear about what he sees as driving the criticism.
Carter: Racism Behind Criticism of Obama
"It's a racist attitude," Carter said Wednesday night. "And my hope is and my expectation is that, in the future, both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States."
Democratic political analyst and ABC consultant Donna Brazile said that kind of unified approach and a rational discussion of race in America are what's needed. The president, she said, doesn't have time for any more "beer summits."
"No one is discussing the legacy of racism or segregation," Brazile said. "Rather, this is a hollow conversation that is distracting us from the larger issues where we can find common ground, whether it's health care, the environment. I basically disagree with those who are starting to start up a conversation that is clearly a dead-end subject. We really need to have a conversation that allows us to move forward, not takes us back to a past where we wish we all could have done better."
As for the school bus beating incident, Brazile said it was inappropriate for Limbaugh to read anything into what happened.
"I think it is important that public figures, as well as media celebrities, watch what they say, that cannot only antagonize communities but perhaps draw the wrong conclusions," she said.
The superintendent of the Belleville West schools, Greg Moats, said Wednesday that there is no evidence that the school bus beating was racially motivated. "Everyone draws their own conclusion from what they see on that tape," Moats told ABC News.
He said he spoke with the mother of the white victim on the bus who told him she saw no racial component.
"His mother indicated there was a problem locating a seat," he said, "and there was a problem between a bully on the school bus."