Bill Clinton: Race 'Not Driving Opposition to President Obama on Health Care'

Former president on health care reform, and next steps in Afghanistan.

September 21, 2009, 8:43 PM

Sept. 22, 2009— -- Former President Bill Clinton believes some of the harshest criticism of the Obama administration's health care plan is "racially prejudiced" but said that what's really driving the opposition is a philosophical or emotional aversion to reform.

"I think some of the extreme right who oppose him on health care are also racially prejudiced," he told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts. "If you look at some of the signs, listen to some of the rhetoric, there's no question that's true. But I believe if he were not an African-American, all the people who were against him on health care would still be against him. Because they were against me too. He believes that."

Clinton said he can "sympathize with" fellow former president and Southerner Jimmy Carter's statement that an "overwhelming portion of the animosity toward President Obama is racially motivated."

"If you're a Southerner and you fought the battles, you're super sensitive of any manifestation or discrimination based on race. But what's driving the opposition to President Obama on health care is not race. Some of his opponents have racial discrimination in their heart. But that's not what's driving them. What's driving them is they don't want health care. They don't want the government to take care of people who are ... left behind."

Obama has also rejected the idea that race is the cause of the criticism of his health care proposals.

"Are there some people who don't like me because of my race? I'm sure there are," Obama told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. "The overwhelming part of the American population, I think, is right now following this debate and trying to figure out 'Is this going to help me? Is health care going to make be better off?'"

He joked on "The David Letterman Show" Monday night that, "I was actually black during the election."

Nearly two weeks after Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on health care he is still trying to push through reform.

After weeks of closed-door meetings, the Finance Committee chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., unveiled his highly anticipated bill last week. The Baucus plan is expected to cost $856 billion over the next 10 years.

Clinton on Victory in Health Care Reform

Victory in health care reform would be "getting pretty close to universal coverage," Clinton said. He also highlighted the need to institute electronic medical records, better management of chronic diseases and increased preventive and primary care.

"Doing things that will lower the cost of our system over the long run compared to other countries," he said. "I believe he'll pass a bill."

Clinton is also optimistic about the future of medical science. He has said he expects to see a cure for cancer in our lifetime, and he reiterated that belief.

"We're close on Parkinson's, we're close on Alzheimer's, we're close on a lot of these other conditions."

"Nanotechnology is going to change diagnostics," he said. "I believe in 20 years, when you and I are going to get our annual checkup, part of it will involve not going into one of those enclosed MRI machines. Our bodies will be scanned, and now submicroscopic tumors will be picked up."

On Monday an assessment by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan recommended that more troops to be sent in order to prevent "mission failure."

Obama told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos this weekend that he was "skeptical" of sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

The former president said he trusted Obama to make a "good decision" and said it's the job of generals "to make an honest recommendation based on what the mission is. And then the president has to decide -- that's what they pay you the big bucks for."

"To dispel one myth, it's just not true that the Pentagon always recommends a more robust action," Clinton said. "They tend to look at the downsides too."

He said the president will have to think about the long-term goals in Afghanistan, and determine whether more troops would help to achieve that goal, and if this is the right time to make the decision. Clinton suggested Obama may be waiting "to see this election question fully resolved" with President Karzai "confirmed and his legitimacy enhanced" or a coalition government established in Afghanistan.

"I think the real lesson that the sophisticated military people learned is if you want to run a counterinsurgency, you've got to have the support of the local people," he said, citing the success of the surge in Iraq.

"I think he'll make a good decision," Clinton said.

Clinton Global Initiative: Being a Good Citizen

Clinton and Obama will open the fifth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday.

Clinton said the global recession hasn't affected the work of the initiative as much as he expected.

"Being a good citizen today requires doing more than voting and paying taxes," Clinton said. "You've got to take some action on your own, no matter how modest it might be, as a private citizen, to try to solve the problems that the private economy can't solve and the government can't reach."

He said those working outside government "can do it faster, and sometimes better. People still believe that."

CLICK HERE for more information on the Clinton Global Initiative.