Transcript from CNN.com
This morning the Secret Service and the FBI are investigating a threatening poll that was posted on Facebook. It posed the question, should Obama be killed? Hundreds of people responded before the social networking site took it down.
Joining us to talk more about what may be behind it, from Syracuse, New York, Boyce Watkins -- he's a Syracuse professor and resident scholar for AOL black voices -- and from Washington, Jamal Simmons, former DNC communications adviser now with the Raben Group, a communication consulting firm.
Let's take a look, gentleman, first of all, at what the poll said posted on Facebook. And again, it was only for a few hours. It said, "Should Obama be killed?" The responses, yes, maybe, if he cuts my health care, and no.
It was put up by a third party application. More than 700 people responded before it was taken down. Boyce, what did you think when you saw that?
BOYCE WATKINS, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Well, obviously, I was sickened by it.
What's interesting, though, is that this poll in itself is really more of a symptom of a bigger problem that exists in our country. We know this president gets more death threats than pretty much any president in recent history.
And so if we really just focus on this issue and don't focus on the broader problem, we'll really miss the point, because we have to realize that America is a country that's sick with the disease of racism.
And the disease of racism has its greatest impact on those who think who think they've been cured. So I'm not so angry about this incident as much I am about the environment that's been created around our president.
ROBERTS: Jamal, on that point, former President Jimmy Carter famously said a couple weeks ago that he thought a good deal of the anger and animosity toward the president was race-based. Let's run a little bit of what the former president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Jamal, President Obama says, yes, he does think there is racism, but that it's not an overriding issue. What do you think? JAMAL SIMMONS, PRINCIPAL, THE RABEN GROUP: I agree with President Obama on this, but I don't think that President Carter is wrong. It's clear that race is a part of some of the animosity that you hear about President Obama.
You know, the fact that Joe Wilson yelled out "you lie" in Congress, the first time in 220 years of Congressional -- presidential Congressional addresses that this has ever happened, I think that's something we have to be concerned about. Why is there that level of disrespect for this American institution, the presidency?
But on the other hand, I think that America has clearly shown that we've made great strides in this issue of race. And while it still exists, it hasn't gone away, it is certainly much, much, much better than it ever has been in American history.
ROBERTS: Boyce, where do you think that level of disrespect as demonstrated by Congressman Joe Wilson comes from?
WATKINS: Well, what we've got to understand is that racism is not always the primary factor that drives a certain action. Racism is, to some extent, an accelerant of issues that may, at least on the surface, appear to have nothing to do with race.
Racism is what makes Joe Wilson feel confident in expressing his discontent with the president in the halls of Congress in an incredibly disrespectful way, and then to further disrespect to the president by saying I'm not even going to apologize because I know there are people that support me.
If Obama were not an African-American, I don't think he would feel that same degree of boldness.
Now we understand, though, that most people in America want to bed good people. Most people in America don't wake up and say, how do I disrespect a black person today?
But what we have to understand is racism lies within the fabric of the institutional infrastructure of the country in which we live. And so if we don't deal with the root causes of some of these actions, then we'll continue to miss point.
ROBERTS: Now, Joe Wilson has said, of course, that this has nothing to do about race, that the president was shading the truth on that particular issue about whether or not the health care plans would cover illegal immigrants.
So is it really, do you think, if not founded in race, Jamal, backed up by at least, as Boyce was saying, the idea that some racial intolerance there may give him a good point to stand on?
SIMMONS: Yes, I'm not going to, you know, make an accusation about what Joe Wilson's heart was feeling at that moment. But I will say there's a certain amount of disrespect, or the language that's being used about this presidency, which is pretty fierce. I will also say, though, I've worked for Bill Clinton for years, and Bill Clinton, another Democrat who pushed socially responsible programs, got a lot of animosity from the right.
The one thing that's happening right now is in the 1960s or '70s, a lot of political violence on the country, you start to see from the left, the anti-war movement, the black panthers, people like that.
In the 1990s and 2000s, all the political violence in the country and the political animosity, the real heat is on the right. You see anti-abortion protesters who kill doctors. You see it with the Michigan militia and what happened in Oklahoma City.
I think the Republican Party has got to make the same decision the Democratic Party did, which is to separate itself from the extreme elements on the right and say to America, we're not as crazy as these people are.
And frankly, I don't think the Republicans in Congress and the leadership have done a good enough job in separating themselves from some of the heated rhetoric coming out of the right wing of this country.
ROBERTS: Boyce, all this talk about the beginning of a post- racial America after President Obama was first elected, and when you see where we are now, what do these cases say about us as a nation and where we're headed in the future?
WATKINS: This presidency is teaching us a lot about where we stand as it pertains to race. The Obama presidency, as painful as it may be for some of us, is really a measuring stick. It's a reminder that you cannot solve a 400-year-old problem with 20 or 25 years of good intentions.
If you want to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther king, you have got to be willing to do the work. And the truth of the matter is that our country hasn't been willing to do the work. We hold celebrations every year to celebrate King's birthday. We say, oh, well, we believe in diversity and this post-racial this, this post- racial that.
But then you see all these death threats coming in, you see this disrespect coming in. You see this behavior that is part of a tradition in America of disrespecting African-American leadership.
So it doesn't mean that America is a country full of bad people or that everybody's racist or anything like that. What it means is that if we're really going to fix this problem, we have got to start being honest, and we haven't been honest with ourselves.
ROBERTS: Some food for thought this morning, gentleman. Boyce Watkins -- go ahead, Jamal.
SIMMONS: John, on one quick positive note. I think African- Americans have always faced obstacles in this country, the country has always faced obstacles on the issue of race. What we have now is different. There are incredible opportunities for people of color to really succeed in this country, and we've got to really pay attention to that while we still deal with the obstacles we face.
ROBERTS: That does indeed leave it on a positive note.
Jamal Simmons, Boyce Watkins, thanks for being with us this morning. Appreciate you coming in.
We want to know what you think about this poll. Is race a factor? Where is the disrespect coming from? Sound off. Call our show hot line or go to our blog at CNN.com/amfix.