Angry criticism of his health care agenda was driven by an intense debate over the proper role of government and not by racism, US president Barack Obama has said.
"Are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are," Obama told CNN. "That's not the overriding issue here."
Obama, the US' first black president, spoke about race during a battery of interviews. In a media blitz aimed at pounding home his health care message, he taped interviews with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Univision to be shown during the networks' Sunday morning talk shows.
Excerpts aired during last night's broadcasts.
Time and again, Obama was asked about whether the tenor of the healthcare debate turned nasty because of undercurrents in racism.
Former President Jimmy Carter raised the point prominently this week when he said "an overwhelming amount" of the vitriol was racially motivated.
Not so, Obama said.
"There's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition, or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes," Obama told CNN.
To ABC News, Obama said most people across the country were just trying to follow the debate and figure out how proposed changes would help them.
"Now there are some who are, setting aside the issue of race, actually I think are more passionate about the idea of whether government can do anything right," Obama said. "And I think that that's probably the biggest driver of some of the vitriol."
Some healthcare town hall meetings over the summer had bitter moments of confrontation. And South Carolina Republican representative Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" at Obama during the president's address to a joint session of Congress last week. The White House has said for weeks that such moments were not representative and overblown.
Obama told CBS News that the media was partly to blame.
"The 24-hour news cycle and cable television and blogs and all this - they focus on the most extreme elements on both sides," Obama said. "They can't get enough of conflict. It's catnip to the media right now."