"There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president," Jimmy Carter, a southern Georgia native, plaintively insisted at a town hall meeting last week.
Alluding to racist epithets written on health reform protest signs, public comparisons of Obama to Hitler, and the tone of Wilson's cry on the House floor, Carter said he believes "those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care."
Former President Clinton, an Arkansas native, conceded Tuesday that while he disagrees with Carter, his predecessor's assertions are not unreasonable.
"If you're a Southerner and you fought the battles, you're super sensitive of any manifestation or discrimination based on race," Clinton said.
Still, Tollison says, those sensitivities should not cause us to ignore the progress that has been made.
"To consider all political criticisms of an African American President to be racially motivated is a step backwards in the evolution of race relations," she said.