As everyone knows by now, when President Obama stated last Wednesday during his health care speech that the Democratic plan would not cover illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, shouted, “You lie.”
It was a shocking moment, at least to me, on a par with Dick Cheney, then vice-president, telling Senator Patrick Leahy, on the Senate floor, to eff himself and President George W. Bush flipping the bird to the press at the White House. As rancorous as politics often is, in the august halls of Congress where much great history has been enacted (and may be again one day), respect is not too much to ask.
There were disruptions from other Republicans during Obama's speech such as “Ha!” and “Read the bill,” and Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia was caught on camera texting or emailing or twittering on his Blackberry. Nothing as extreme as from Representative Wilson, but unseemly nonetheless.
This incident, when taken with the extreme name-calling of the far right, I think, is a serious matter. Although it has become apparent after the fact that the media overplayed the vulgar shouting matches and most town hall meetings were well-behaved discussions with people who had genuine questions and concerns, there is growing pattern of vicious rhetoric that is disturbing.
Last weekend, some tea bag organizations labeled President Obama a latter-day Dr. Mengele for his health care reform initiative. Over the summer, it became commonplace to see demonstrators carrying signs depicting the president as Adolph Hitler, displaying the Nazi swastika while shouting “fascist” and “socialist” as they did again in Washington, D.C. on Saturday
The political ignorance of these protestors does not absolve them of disgustingly bad taste. None of the health care reform proposals nor the president bear the remotest resemblance to the actions of Nazi Germany, one of the worst terror regimes in the history of the world that should never be trivialized in this manner.
I don't mean to lump repellent protesters with Representative Wilson who “merely” disrupted the decorum of Congress with his shouted disrespect during the president's speech. But I believe there is a correlation.
When we do not condemn actions – and words – that are rude, deceitful or false, they become increasingly acceptable; silence gives consent. For impact, they escalate and we become accustomed to them until there is no room for reasoned debate. Then there is nothing left but the shouting and when that fails to draw censure, there is nowhere to go but toward violence.
Our legislators need to be the grownups in the room, to set the tone. It is long past time for moderate Republicans to reign in their hate brigade, to shame them and get on with the serious business of governing.
Or maybe I'm just an aging fussbudget with an antiquated sense of decorum.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone – Alzheimer's: Part 7 – A Day in the Life