Deja Vu: Past Political Debate


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


It's sad Ronni. And what's almost as bad is that none of the elder statesmen (can they be called that?)are speaking out in support of the presidency. Where's President Carter & Clinton & Bob Dole among others all once a part of the political mainstream? I've emailed my own Senior senator expressing disappointment with his silence re disrespect for the president. It probably won't do much good, but I feel better about letting him (or a staff person) know how I feel.

Maureen Dowd's column addresses the prejudice that remains in the US after the civil rights movement. Can we ever get past this dreadful drain on our country? It's terribly discouraging. Dee

While Rep Wilson set a new low for conduct in the halls of Congress, he did not by any means invent being disrespectful to the President. Disrespect goes back generations, and was certainly not lacking during Pres Bush's years in office.

Too, it is my understanding that only creative accounting could justify the statement that Pres Obama was making that inflamed Rep Wilson so much.

We all need to display more respect for one another, giving the other person the right to have a different position from our own without vilifying him/her. We might all vow, "Please, let the new civility begin with me."

I forget the actual language used, but the thrust of GOP spin on the "You lie!" moment seems to be that Rep. Wilson was the one with the courage to say aloud what many were thinking!

The message to conservatives is that self-indulgent reductionism has become admirable!

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't trust Joe Wilson and his loutish ilk to manage a fraternity keg fund. Where are Republican leaders like Nelson Rockefeller and Margaret Chase Smith when the country needs them?

'Aging fussbudget' ? No, I don't think so.

I remember wondering during those reports of rude behavior at town hall meetings...where was the Sergeant at Arms to remove these people? Rude behavior is never excusable and it needs to be said more often and reinforced by action. And it has to start at the top...perhaps a lecture to Congress by their own Sergeant at Arms would be a good start.

(Looks like your Comment section is getting spammed these days - denturecreamlawyer indeed!)


Typepad is pretty good at catching most spam comments, but some get through every day. I just haven't been at the computer as much during the past few days to get rid of them as quickly as usual.

Dear antiquated fussbudget,
Scoot over and make room for me, as I too am dismayed by the crude, rude disrespectful behavior.
Acceptance is what we teach our kids.

It's not incivility, it's racism, fueled by unprincipled right-wing ideologues exploiting ignorance and religious zealotry. Rep. Wilson speaks for many people in this country who just cannot bear the reality of a person of color being President. What those of us who recoil from their actions have to do is, through our votes and political activities, insure the politicians instilling this fear and hatred never get back in power again.

I don't mean to be disrespectful, Ronni, but your call for "moderate Republicans" to step up is a fantasy: they don't exist any more, at least not in Congress.

'Silence gives consent'. Well said. I miss the days of statesmen (and women) on both sides; probably a function of the times, but also a result of diversity in both parties. The Republicans had room for a Rockefeller and the Democrats for a Russell. There had to be compromise within parties as well as between.

You are so correct about this "silence gives consent."

I've been frustrated by the letters to the editor in my local paper voicing agreement and support for Joe Wilson's disrespect for the president. My own cool-headed letter was surrounded by hysteria, which was better reading.

A child on my grandkid's school bus told the kids not to watch the president's speech because he was trying to brainwash children into being Nazi's. Where is the real brainwashing coming from? Parents, who parrot the talking heads without studying the issues for themselves.

I want to stand on my balcony and yell to all the crazies, but then I'd appear crazy, too! Thank you for being a voice of reason. I wish everyone in my community read your blog.

An occasional lack of respect for the Presidency goes back to the beginning of our government, but that doesn't make it right. When we lose sight of common decency we have lost our soul.

By allowing the nuts to set the tone we are giving an image to the rest of the world of a bunch of ignorant rubes lacking in manners. The rest of us should stand up and proclaim loud and clear that the whackos do not speak for us.

"the whackos do not speak for us." Right On!
I've known for quite some time, that people are usually guilty of the terms they choose to use.
Hitler rose on capitalist fascism, and Cheney is a Nazi, and the KOOKS are inbred w/the Klan.
well, duh!

A coarsening of society is what I call it. Respect for authority is lacking. Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of good manners.

Case in point besides "Joe Wilson"
look at Serena Williams boorish display and threatening action against the line judge at the tennis tournament.

Some seem to delight in rudeness these days.

"Rude": discourteous, impolite, uncivil, vulgar, unmannerly, disrespectful, misbehaved, brazen, insulting, caustic, gruff, uncouth, brash, inconsiderate, tactless, boisterous, sarcastic, abrupt, furious, uncivilized, crude, coarse, ferocious, vile, savage, offensive, raging, violent, brutal, cruel, contemptuous, insolent, grouchy, barbarous, gross...
(The Synonym Finder,J.I. Rodale, Warner Books)

Deejay--What in the world would make you think that Rep Wilson's comment was a sign of racism? When will we get to the point where we understand that, "Sometimes a cigar is just a good smoke"? May we not disagree with a person of a different hue without having our opinion being attributed to our hue? Pshaw!

I appreciated everything about your column except the last paragraph with (of all things!) an ageist overtone.

This is my first comment to your blog and I apologize for not making my very first response a positive one . . .
K C Hannah

K.C. Hannah...
There are all sorts of things over which I'm an "aging fussbudget" and I see nothing ageist about those feelings, just maybe stuck in the past on some things:

I don't like flip-flops at work or bare midriffs on women in the office (well, nor on men if I'd ever seen any), most hip-hop music, etc. etc.

Increased rudeness in and out of Congress compared to my youth is another - but given today's world, it's hard to tell sometimes if it's important or just an old woman who isn't keeping up.

So, being lied to is Okay? I doubt Have you experienced watching UK Parliament?????
So lie all you want, but don't be rude!

No, you are not an "aging fussbudget with an antiquated sense of decorum." I was particularly distressed by all the well-meaning protesters on television this weekend who probably voted for Bush and did not even realize he handed President Obama one big mess to sort out.

There's so much truth in your statement, "silence gives consent." We need to all think about this and make our voices heard.

I wish the representative would have kept quiet. Health care is bringing out the worst in some. I respect the negotiations and compromise underway behind the scenes and will accept the outcome.
I am reasonable and rational and can see both sides. I am a lucky man.

A couple of points, the first of which I somehow managed to delete from my reply earlier today. I think that the lack of civility by politicians, especially on the right is due to two factors. The first is a polarization of the parties in general. Gone are the likes of Rockefeller and Javits from the Republican Party and Long and Stennis from the Democratic. There is little diversity within parties, so the art of compromise has withered. Second is the historical ebb and flow of civility. The early Congress was wild and woolly place, but by the time of our recollections, civility had become the norm. Now the pendulum swings again.

My second point is a response to "chancy" above. I do feel that many (not all) of the belligerent response to this President ARE the result of racism. A portion of them are conscious, but another fraction of them are not; the result of a buried racism that even the perpetrator does not understand.

Ronni--Before even reading this morning's (Tuesday's) posting, and before someone clunks me on the head, please allow me to apologize for a probable misunderstanding in my first comment in this string. Although I watched Pres Obama's address (on CNN, I believe), it seems from having watched a clip shown on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer last evening (I think the clip was from the Today Show, but don't recall for sure) that I was probably in error in my understanding.

I did not in my viewing on CNN catch the Rep Wilson incident at the time it occurred, but read about it later. I may have erred in my understanding of which of Pres Obama's statements drew fire from Rep Wilson. If that is the case, I withdraw the statement that, "Too, it is my understanding that only creative accounting could justify the statement that Pres Obama was making that inflamed Rep Wilson so much."

I'm sorry for any confusion I have contributed.

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