On Sunday night, Dr. David McKalip forwarded to fellow members of a Google listserv affiliated with the Tea Party movement the image below. Above it, he wrote: "Funny stuff."
Now, Tea Party activists trafficking in racist imagery are pretty much dog bites man. But McKalip isn't just some random winger. He's a Florida neurosurgeon, who serves as a member of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates.
He's also an energetic conservative opponent of health-care reform. McKalip founded the anti-reform group Doctors For Patient Freedom, as well as what seems to be a now defunct group called Cut Taxes Now. Last month he joined GOP congressmen Tom Price and Phil Gingrey, among others, for a virtual town hall to warn about the coming "government takeover of medicine." And in a recent anti-reform op-ed published in the St. Petersburg Times, McKalip wrote that "Congress wants to create larger, government-funded programs for health care and more bureaucracy that ration care and impose cookbook medicine."
Asked about the email in a brief phone interview with TPMmuckraker, McKalip said he believes that by depicting the president as an African witch doctor, the "artist" who created the image "was expressing concerns that the health-care proposals [made by President Obama] would make the quality of medical care worse in our country." McKalip said he didn't know who created it.
But pressed on what was funny about an image that plays on racist stereotypes about Africans, McKalip declined to say, instead offering to talk about why he opposes Obama's health-care proposals.
"I have a busy day," he said eventually, before ending the call.
Late Update: An emailer points us to a picture of a Papua New Guinea tribesman wearing identical head-dress, feathers, and clothes to the man in the image forwarded by McKalip. So that suggests that McKalip's image was based on a Papua New Guinean, rather than an African. But it seems unlikely that McKalip himself was aware of this when he forwarded the email. It was he who first used the term "witch doctor" in our phone interview, and he didn't quibble with our suggestion that the image played on stereotypes of Africans.
Late Late Update: A blogger at Daily Kos has gotten a statement from the American Medical Association, which reads:
Delegates to the American Medical Association are selected through their individual state and specialty societies, and their individual views and actions do not, in any way, represent the official view of the AMA. We condemn any actions or comments that are racist, discriminatory or unprofessional.
The same blogger also reports:
I just got a call from the Director of Corporate Communications at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Pete and she's livid about what Dr. McKalip has done--he's works in the hospital. She said that she is an African American herself and the hospital will be investigating this matter!! I called earlier and left her a message. YAY!!!
We just made our own call to the communications director at Bayfront, Kanika Tomalin, and she wasn't willing to go quite that far. She said the issue was being "handled internally" but declined to elaborate, beyond stressing that though McKalip works at Bayfront, he does not speak for the hospital.