We Americans love to pat ourselves on the back about the smooth transition of government following elections and lauding it, rightly, as evidence of the strength of democracy in action. Presidential campaigns could be hard fought, but when the dust settled and votes were counted, we as Americans, because we respected the office, respected the man who was president. It is a basic lesson most of us have taught our children — you don’t have to agree with someone, but you respect them as an individual and a fellow human being.

Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouts as President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, 2009 Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouts as President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, 2009

I have watched in appalled wonder recently as adults behaved badly in public meetings on health care and wondered what kind of example they felt they were setting for their children about how to resolve conflicts. Until this summer, I thought such behavior was reserved for sports arenas at best or street mobs at worst.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how the United States must appear to the rest of the world. Only nine months ago, we were being admired around the world for the progressive leadership we showed in electing the first African-American president. How do we look now I wonder? What do Jews around the world and others who felt the real life oppression and deadly cruelty of the Nazi government, think when people here call the president Hitler because they disagree with him politically? What do Afghans think as they await the recount of their recent election as Americans — both private citizens and elected representatives — unhappy with their own election’s results, turn to lies, distortion and disruption, at every turn.

Last night’s indecorous display by Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina, reached new lows. I was embarrassed for Wilson and my country. We are better than that.


Image credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / Time

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Jennifer Hill

Jennifer Hill

Jennifer Hill is the communications director at a private school in Atlanta. She is a former editor and reporter for The Atlanta Journal and Constition, where she worked in business news and features. She and her two sons live in Avondale Estates, Georgia.