Everybody’s down on poor Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Representative who shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to the joint session of the U.S. Congress Wednesday night. Even folks who think the President was lying protest that hurling insults at a U.S. President is unseemly, thoughtless, unpatriotic, rude, crude, and socially unacceptable.
Here in the flat woods, we’ve always stood up for honoring the President as the representative of the entire nation. Like him or not, he’s the leader of our nation and deserves to be treated with respect. On the other hand, the Washington code that requires public show of respect is often tedious and counter-productive.
Opposing Representatives and Senators seen on televised hearings (I confess to being a C-Span junkie) often are unable to articulate their arguments for or against particular ideas, proposals, and legislation because they spend so much time complimenting each other.
“My learned friend” they call the guy with an idiotic amendment.
“I respect your years of service to our nation” they say to the congressman whose time in public office has been spent fronting for a motley montage of monied interest groups.
The two most practiced at the art, Sen. Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, can talk nice even while their faces appear so red hot that you’d expect puffs of steam to emit from their ears. They talk and talk and the hearing ends with a promise to investigate the matter further, honorable colleague.
You’d think a shout, unconsidered and reactionary, whether truthful or dead wrong, would be a refreshing breeze.
Hah! those opposed to the shout might think. He’s wrong there, for sure.
Ah! those in agreement with the shout might say. He’s struck the nail upon the proverbial head.
But the assembled Washingtonians don’t feel the fresh breeze. Instead, they detect a cold wave portending the collapse of civilization and are thereby deeply offended. Did you see the withering glare from Nancy Pelosi? I’m betting Rep. Joe Wilson isn’t getting a Christmas card from her this year.
After the speech Republican leaders headed for the microphones to denouce the ill-wind that was Rep. Joe Wilson’s loud voice. Fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn, a Democrat, rushed to uphold civility and good breeding. All day Thursday politicians and common folks insisted they were appalled at the general decline in good manners in public discourse.
I say, give it a rest.
Rudeness is rarely useful or acceptable, but false civility isn’t getting us anywhere we want to go.
Consider (and I apoligize for the C-Span reference) the weekly recap of the British Parliment’s Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s joyous fun to watch, even when you can’t quite make out what the Members of Parliment are going on about.
“Hurrah!” they shout for a comment they favor. “Here! Here!”
Those on the opposite site mutter darkly. When their turn to speak comes one will rise to glare down the benches toward the Prime Minister. “Will you admit now, sir, that your policies and your government are a complete and utter failure?”
The moderator’s gavel shakes down the tumult that follows. “Order! Order! I will have order!”
Our guys could learn from their guys. Say what you think and say it out loud. And stand on what you say.
Poor Joe Wilson didn’t call President Obama an ugly name. He said he lied. President Obama proclaimed in the same speech that legislators who claimed the Democratic health care reform proposals would create “Death Panels” were telling a lie.
Those are both statements of opinion, not the end of the world as we know it.
Instead of spending the rest of the week agonizing over the breakdown of civility, let’s examine the competing claims. Then let’s make a decision.
The debate over manners is just another decoy.