RNC Chairman Steele: Carter 'Wrongheaded' With Obama Racism Accusations

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 16, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: What's up with former president Jimmy Carter? Is he calling it like it is or is he playing the race card? Tonight, RNC chairman Michael Steele goes "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Hey, Greta. How are you?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well.


VAN SUSTEREN: I want to -- I want to first start with former president Jimmy Carter. He said...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... that the remark made, the boorish outburst by Congress Wilson, was based on racism. So two-part question. One, whether you believe it was based on racism. And secondly, if you don't think it is, can you tell us how we have a legitimate challenge or -- to any policy of an African-American without getting that tag back?

STEELE: Yes. First -- first question, no, I don't think it's based on racism. I don't know where in that moment you could derive that that's exactly what was in the congressman's heart or his intent. I don't think it was an impression. In fact, I believe the president himself has said it was not an impression he took away from that moment. This was a (INAUDIBLE) disagreement, and he blurted out improperly, has been sanctioned for it, apologized to the president. So that part we can move on.

Having said that, now we have the former president, Jimmy Carter, elevating this to a point where, you know, he's sort of saying, Well, all these people who disagree with President Obama actually have some sinister view of the president based on race. And I think that that is disingenuous and it's just wrongheaded.

We cannot go to a point in this country -- we will not have progressed -- in fact, I believe we will hurt President Obama if every time we find ourselves in disagreement with him, his sycophants and others out there are running to his side and rushing in with charges of racism.

This man is the President of the United States. He is responsible for our national security, our economy, and he's got a lot of pressure and a lot of work to do. He's formulating policies. People will agree with them, people don't agree with them. So when you have members of his own party who come out and say, I don't agree with the president on -- on the public option, are they being racist? I mean, so if you don't want to go down this road, President Carter and others need to be very careful here because this is a debate that's too important to diminish it by silliness like that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, in some ways, though, it is -- it can be used as a weapon to stop debate because (INAUDIBLE) I actually...

STEELE: Absolutely.

VAN SUSTEREN: I believe -- I believe racism exists. I believe sexism exists. I believe a lot of different groups are discriminated against. I believe that. And you -- you know from speaking to me in the make-up room here...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... at FOX News, for years, I did civil rights work. I believe it exists. But I also think we've got to have -- be able to challenge people from different background, different walks of life without having -- you know, having a weapon fired back at us that is, you know, a weapon that is profoundly difficult to -- to combat.

STEELE: Greta, you are dead on, and you and I have had this discussion, and we are -- we are locked in an agreement here. I with you agree that racism is still very much a part of the fabric of this country, unfortunately. It is a stain that for generations now, we've been trying to scrub out. I was very concerned during the campaign, and I expressed to you and others at that time, this whole post-racial mentality that was sort of bubbling up around President Obama was not based on any reality that I know from my background and my experience and I see when I go out around the country.

So on that instance, you're absolutely right. The progression for us -- and I think the next step for us -- is, How do we translate a black man, a black woman, a woman, speaking of sexism, or anyone who is not a white male into this body politic so you can, you know, go at them, do the rough- and-tumble, the give-and-take, the agreement/disagreement without having that overshadowed by charges of racism. It is a maturity...


STEELE: ... a maturing process that we've got to go through, but I think Carter did not help that maturing process with his comments.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that being used unfairly against some white Americans for disagreeing on political policy grounds? Is it being -- is that being used unfairly?

STEELE: I think it is. And I think, to your earlier point, that there are those around the president -- I saw it in the campaign, certainly, and I think it's true here -- who want to use this as a bat to stop debate, to chill it so you don't have this disagreement, this, you know, back-and-fort tension on an issue.

So for a lot of folks now, particularly, you know -- you know, white Republicans, for example, there's this hesitancy, Well, you know, I disagree with the president, but I can't say anything. Well, that's not America. That's not what this is about. We're all -- we've always been about that ability, particularly after the Civil Rights movement and so many other movements have fought for that right for us to say stuff that people may not want to hear in polite company.

Now to come back, you know, in this 21st century mindset and put this cloth over it and say, Well, no, no, you can't say anything, you know, that disagrees with the president, or you can't say anything that could be inferred as, you know, something negative, is not what this should be about. And so I'm hoping that the president will stand with me -- and I believe his spokesman, Mr. Gibbs, came out today with some comments from the president to the effect that, no, Joe Wilson's outburst was not a racist attack or approach against the president and that we need to move beyond that and start talking about the substance of health care, card check, you know, and the like.

VAN SUSTEREN: Chairman Steele, thank you very much. As always...

STEELE: All right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... hope you'll come back.

STEELE: I will be back, Greta. Take care.


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