Pants on fire.”
– The Castaways
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.
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.
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.