Joe Wilson's blurtout last week lit a fuse to set off a slow-motion exposure of race in the national anti-Obama rage.
Today the House Black Caucus takes the lead in censuring the South Carolina Congressman with what are clearly mixed feelings about dealing publicly with an issue that seemed to have been settled by the inauguration of a "post-racial" president only a few months ago.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn has refused to call the "You lie" outburst racist, skirting the issue by telling reporters only that Obama is the first president to be treated that way, but other members of the Caucus are less circumspect.
"We've got to realize," says Georgia Rep. David Scott, "racism is playing a role here. I'm hopeful that this will be a wake-up call for us to get it off the table."
Such ambivalence reflects ancient fears of feeding prejudice by calling public attention to it, a dilemma long discussed privately by Jews over anti-Semitism.
During the election campaign, Barack Obama avoided race until the furor over Rev. Jeremiah Wright forced him to make his cathartic speech on the subject, and last week he tried to dismiss the Wilson uproar by quickly accepting his "apology."
Yet, in the savagery of some of the opposition to the President's policies, the elephant in the room is roaring too loudly to ignore.
On the PBS News Hour last night, conservative columnist Ross Douthat acknowledged that "clearly Barack Obama's race plays some role in the kind of--you know, the kind of anxieties and so forth that are roiling the political right."
African-American moderator Gwen Ifill had asked black Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson about the violent opposition to health care reform, "Is there something about this presidency which brings that out?" and she had replied, "I don't know if it's this presidency; I hate to think that it is."
So do we all, but it won't go away by not talking about it. Time to revive the bromide about sunlight as the best disinfectant.