September 2009

“Liar, liar,
Pants on fire.”
– The Castaways

Rep. Joe Wilson at a Joint Session of Congress

Rep. Joe Wilson at a Joint Session of Congress

“You lie!”

That was the eloquent argument set forth by Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, during President Obama’s address regarding health care reform to a Joint Session of Congress this evening.

“You lie!”

Gosh, but it’s hard to debate such a well-reasoned and articulately stated point of view.  My goodness.  Rep. Wilson must surely have grabbed top honors in high school debate tournaments with such powerful and thought-provoking prose.  His peers must have quaked at the mere mention of his name for fear it would invoke grandiloquence on a scale not seen since the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  Or heck, maybe even the days of Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin.

“You lie!”

Is that where we are as a society?  A sitting congressman, elected by a majority to represent all the people in his district – white, black, red, blue and all shades in between – calling a sitting  President, elected by a majority to represent all the people in his country, a liar during a Presidential address televised worldwide?  And this a mere two days after this same President urged students across the nation to stay in school, study hard and focus on achieving success?

To me, this is pretty basic.  You can disagree with the President’s policies and proposals.  You can disagree with his decisions and think his wife dresses like a twit.  You may even detest him as a person and consider him the heir of Slytherin.   And still, you respect the office. This is a fundamental principle of a democratic government.  Fact is, I disagreed with President Bush (George W., that is) on a range of policy issues.  I didn’t like many of his decisions and, while I didn’t think Laura dressed him like a twit, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole Texas rancher thing.  And three years ago when I attended an event hosted by one of my clients at which President Bush was speaking, I stood up and applauded when he entered and exited the room.

You respect the office.  He’s the leader of the Free World, for goodness sakes.  If you think he’s misrepresenting something, fine.  Discuss it with him in private.  Write a letter to the editor.  Hold a news conference and explain your rationale.  Support your position with facts and reasoned analysis.

There must be some measure of civility if we as a democracy hope to get anything done.  Exactly what kind of example did Rep. Wilson think he was setting?  Even my teenage daughter exclaimed, “What’s wrong with him?  You show respect for the office!”

Is that what we’ve come to?  A high school kid telling a Congressman to mind his manners?

Talk about a BGO . . .

Update on 9.10.09:

Okay.  I was heartened to see legislators and pundits from both sides of the aisle criticize our own Eliza Doolittle straight out of the box last night and throughout the day today.  I was also heartened to see the wunderkind from the Peach State issue a written apology (as if he had any choice in the matter) and place a call to the White House to apologize verbally (as if he had any choice in the matter, given that his own colleagues on the Republican side had distanced themselves from him like Clinton from powder blue dresses).  Of course, calling at 11:15 p.m. more than two hours after the incident was bad form, but heck, it probably took the leadership that long to browbeat him into it (and his handlers that long to read how the media and country responded).  And the fact that his likely opponent received more than $450,000 in unsolicited donations today perhaps says more about this incident than just about anything else.  Money talks and all that.

Either way, Rep. Wilson has ensured that his name will be long remembered ’round the halls of Congress and in the annals of American political theater.  The only question now is how his constituents will recall this incident come next November.  Based on this story, it appears many of them are just fine with it.  How’s that for a commentary on today’s electorate.

We can be heroes,
Just for one day.
— David Bowie

Gizella Abramson

Gizella Abramson

I’ve been thinking about heroes a lot lately.  After an absence from this page of nearly six months, I was afraid the well of inspiration for this (or any blog) had run dry.  I figured it would take something pretty significant to knock me out of my stupor and give me something meaningful to share.

I was right.

Last Sunday, I had the privilege to help honor one of the most humble, courageous and inspirational individuals I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Gizella Abramson, a survivor of the Holocaust, was recognized by my congregation, Temple Beth Or, for a lifetime of service to her community at an afternoon event in Raleigh.  Nearly 300 crowded together in a hotel ballroom to celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing woman.  For while Gizella stands only four-feet, nine-inches tall when you use standard measurements, Gizella is one of those folks for whom standard is a meaningless term.

Gizella, or “Mrs. A” as her thousands of students know her, has spent a lifetime teaching young and old throughout North Carolina and the world about what it means to be human and how we should live our lives.  For more than 40 years, Gizella has chosen to relive the unspeakable horrors of her teenage years again and again and again to ensure that the consequences of hate and indifference will not be forgotten.  In addition to teaching a course on the Holocaust to eighth graders in the Temple Beth Or Religious School, Gizella has shared her experience with tens of thousands of people over the years at middle schools, high schools, colleges, community events and national conferences.  She is a survivor in the truest sense of the word and has dedicated her life to young people (or, as Gizella says, “my students, my beautiful, beautiful students”).

In Judaism, our purpose in life is described as “Tikun Olam,” or working to repair our imperfect world.  In our work, in our communities and in our families, it is our responsibility to live a life that helps perfect the world around us.  There are any numbers of paths toward this goal, and Lord knows the pressures of the day-to-day can make it a challenge to choose much less walk down a path.  And yet, when I see someone like Gizella, someone who personifies ideals like “perseverance,” “dedication,” “love” and “courage,” someone who lost virtually every member of her family and her community in a veritable hell on earth – when I see someone like that make the time and find the energy to “be the change you want to see in the world,” I know there is no explanation, no rationalization, no excuse that can justify inaction.

So as we approach a new year, I hope I and we decide to be heroes, even if just for one day.