Some say the depiction of the president as a witch doctor is racism.
Published July 24, 2009|Updated Sept. 5, 2009

A prominent St. Petersburg doctor and conservative activist has drawn a flood of criticism for e-mailing an image depicting President Barack Obama as a witch doctor with a loin cloth, exotic headdress and bones in his nose.

"ObamaCare, coming soon to a clinic near you,'' reads the caption on the e-mail forwarded earlier this week by St. Petersburg neurosurgeon David McKalip.

Several popular liberal blogs, including Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post and Daily Kos, highlighted McKalip's e-mail Thursday and castigated him for racism. McKalip said he was flooded with calls from people attacking him over the e-mail, which he said he had forwarded to "a limited group" of about 150 people.

"I am not a racist. I am simply a person speaking up to make sure patients don't get hurt by the government and by insurance companies,'' said McKalip, who earlier this month organized "tea party" rallies across Florida denouncing Obama's health care reform proposals. "Because I've been so effective in pointing out how the government plans are going to hurt patients in very serious ways ... the only way they can neutralize my message is to discredit me personally."

McKalip, who has written guest columns for the St. Petersburg Times on tax and health care issues, teaches at the University of South Florida, is president-elect of the Pinellas County Medical Association, and a board member of the Florida Medical Association - which denounced McKalip's e-mail and urged him to apologize to Obama. He has become an increasingly visible political activist, founding advocacy groups including Cut Taxes Now, the Florida Taxpayers Alliance and Doctors for Patient Freedom.

McKalip noted that he helped organize a career counseling day several years ago for African-American Boy Scouts and blamed liberal activists for promoting the witch doctor image more than he did. He called the e-mail "satire," but later Thursday night released a statement apologizing to Obama.

"I recognize that this image is offensive and hope that the nation refocuses on assuring all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care with no party interfering in the patient-physician relationship," McKalip said.

He is expecting protesters outside his office soon. The Daily Kos site is encouraging people to lodge complaints against him with his affiliated hospitals, USF, and the state Department of Health.