The White House on Sunday dismissed a claim by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that administration critics like Rep. Joe Wilson, who called President Obama a liar during his health care address to Congress, are motivated by race.
Wilson, speaking on "FOX News Sunday," also denied the allegation.
"No, no," the South Carolina Republican said when asked if Obama's skin color was an issue for him. "Hey, I respect the president. ... I have a great respect for the Obama family."
Dowd wrote in her column that Wilson's outburst Wednesday -- when he shouted, You lie," at the president for claiming his health care reform plan would not cover illegal immigrants -- convinced her that racial angst is the underlying motive among Obama critics like Wilson.
"I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer ... had much to do with race," she wrote. "But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it."
Dowd wrote that Wilson "clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."
Asked about the claim, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said race is not the factor.
"I don't think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we've ever seen."
Dowd's charge of racism is hardly the first to be leveled against administration critics.
Most recently, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., was quoted in early September saying that "bias" and "prejudice" are behind a lot of the public opposition to health care reform.