"It's the symbol of the coarsening of our politics when critics constantly impugn the motives of those with whom they disagree. We can't just have honest disagreements. Instead, 'you're a racist,'" Ayres said.
Making false generalizations is a dangerous game. The perpetrators take a few ugly examples and apply them to a larger constituency that is blameless. It is the last refuge of people in the arena who are incapable of building a case based on facts and well-honed arguments -- or they have other devious motivations.
Opposition to Obama's government-run healthcare proposals and the rest of his agenda is for the most part based on a disagreement over policy, political philosophy and honest differences of opinion.
"Certainly all of the anger at Obama is not based on race, nor is most opposition to his policies rooted in race. Ideology and partisanship explain much more," Brookings Institution analyst Thomas Mann told me. "And yet some of the more extreme attacks on him very likely have a racial dimension."
It is disturbing to see how the all too human expression of anger in public discourse has now entered into the accusations about race.
A media advisory from the PBS evening program, "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," went out Wednesday promoting a panel discussion led by Gwen Ifill. It read: "What is driving the anger against Obama? Gwen Ifill discusses the issue of race in political discourse with experts."
The level of anger in political discourse certainly reached a fever pitch during George W. Bush's presidency, but I do not recall panel discussions that examined the accusations hurled at Bush that to many people were over the top, to put it mildly.
Commentary magazine analyst Peter Wehner remembers former Vice President Al Gore charging that Bush "has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon."
Gore not only said that Bush had "betrayed this country," he called him a "moral coward." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called Bush a "liar" and also said Bush had "betrayed the country."
Jimmy Carter last week said that no matter "how much we disagree with his policies, the president should be treated with respect." Not a peep from ol' Jimmy when Gore and others were accusing Bush of treason.
Notably, Obama and his advisers want no part in this discussion and wish it would go away. The Washington Post reported on its front page Thursday that the official line at the White House is: "Race issue? What race issue?"
Democracy by its nature can lead to messy situations where tempers flare and outrageous accusations are hurled at one another in the heat of political battle or in the making of laws. In most cases, however, it has nothing to do with race.