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Race enters Obama-Wilson debate

Was the heckling of President Obama by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., motivated by racism? More broadly, is race at the core of much of the passionate opposition to Obama and his proposals? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd thinks so. When Wilson yelled "You lie!" Dowd heard "You lie, boy!" She wrote: "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." Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson also suspects "that Obama's race leads some of his critics to feel they have permission to deny him the legitimacy, stature and common courtesy that are any president's due. I can't prove this, however. And if I'm right, what's anybody supposed to do about it? There's no way to compel people to search their souls for traces of conscious or unconscious racial bias. We could have an interesting discussion about the historical image of the black man in American society, but that wouldn't get us any closer to universal health care."When asked on "Fox News Sunday" whether Obama's race was an issue for him, Wilson said, "No, no. Hey, I respect the president." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs also downplayed the role of race in protests. "I don't think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin," he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."