WASHINGTON (CNN) – Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele on Wednesday sharply criticized a statement made by prominent Democrats - including Former President Jimmy Carter - that members of his party hold negative views of President Obama solely because he is black.
Steele accused Carter of being "dead wrong" and said he thinks the former Democratic president "was out of line."
"I think that he takes this to a point - to a level that is not reflective of what's been transpiring" in the current health care debate, Steele said. "When you go down this road and you start to just willy-nilly - as I believe President Carter has - throwing race out there, you diminish real instances of racism that needs to be addressed."
Carter on Tuesday said that he believes an inclination toward racism still exists in parts of the country and that it has "bubbled up to surface because of the belief by many white people not just in the south but around the country that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country."
Carter made similar comments Wednesday night at a Town Hall in Atlanta, where he said that carrying signs equating Obama with Adolf Hitler and or urging that the president be buried with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy “are beyond the bounds” of how presidents have been treated in the past.
“And I think people who are guilty of that kind of 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,” Carter said. “ ... 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 uprecendented attack on the president of the United States.”
Steele, interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” was flummoxed when asked about a remark Democratic Rep. Henry "Hank" Johnson made Tuesday which drew a parallel between South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress last week and people "putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people."
"I think it's an ignorant statement," Steele said. "I'm sorry, just to me, it's beyond anyone's comprehension that you can make that leap."
While denouncing accusations of racism, Steele also suggested that Democratic members of Congress who represent constituents in poor neighborhoods are more racist than Wilson.
"You tell me where racism really exists," Steele said. "Is it in the words of a congressman who says 'you lie'? Or is it how we strip education funding through opportunity scholarships? Or is it how we cut money for our HBCU's [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] around the country? Or is it the fact that so many African Americans still live in neighborhoods that are burnt out and run down?"
Steele admitted that the Republcan party needs to take a new line to connect with black voters. "Our party has for over a generation employed a strategy that right now many of us wish we never had," he said.