Before President Obama’s address to Congress on health care last week, those who disagree with him have incessantly shrieked about how his policies will ruin America. That tactic is hardly a surprise anymore, as the first eight months of his presidency have been partially defined by it.
What’s surprised many is how that toxicity spilled into the Congressional chamber in the form of blatant disrespect toward the president by a previously unknown congressman.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., found it appropriate to shout “You lie!” at the president after he firmly denied a baseless claim that his plan will provide coverage to illegal aliens. Boos quickly rained down upon Wilson. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi looked justifiably shocked, while Vice President Joe Biden simply shook his head and looked down in disbelief.
Congressional heavyweights on both sides of the aisle immediately called for Wilson to apologize. He did so, but has since continued to spread misinformation about what is and is not a part of Obama health care reform, such as his continued insistence on stating liberal reform would provide all illegals with coverage.
To be fair, there is a potential loophole in one of four bills on health care reform floating around Congress that does indeed raise the possibility of Wilson’s accusation. A technicality leaves the requirement for proof of citizenship in exchange for health care not fully fleshed out, but is easily reparable. To call the president a liar on national television over something relatively petty, that he didn’t write himself, is absolutely ludicrous.
While Wilson’s disregard for decorum within the chamber was sad to see, it’s the aftermath that’s proven more disturbing. He’s raised over a million dollars for his 2010 campaign as of this past weekend, to be used to “fend off attacks from political opponents.” A protest of Obama’s speech in Washington D.C. on Saturday saw thousands of so-called “tea-baggers” not only agreeing with Wilson’s ill-informed position, but also with his decision to interrupt the address.
The march drew on several unrelated No-bama factions, including Ron Paul supporters obsessing over the Federal Reserve, nutcases that still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen and a cult that loves their country so much they want their state (most prominently Texas) to secede from the Union. They’re all bound, however, by a sense of blind rage and fear that leads them to chuck civil debate and negotiation out the window. These people resemble a scary, screaming gym teacher out of an ’80s movie.
Wilson’s apologists have been quick to point out that Democrats made unfriendly noises during George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in 2005. While this is unfortunately true, Wilson has taken things to a whole new level of inappropriateness.
This lack of civility seems to suggest that Obama’s opponents are trying to dehumanize him. While they were quick to attack any kind of dissent against former President Bush’s policies as unpatriotic, they feel the current president isn’t entitled to the same respect. Democrats were never this venomous in attacking policy they disagreed with.
Regardless of whether you agree with his policies or not, you simply do not interrupt a presidential address in the Congressional chamber. There are absolutely zero excuses to do so — you show a constitutionally elected leader the respect he deserves, no matter how much you disagree with him. It’s also a lousy way to get progressives to listen to your concerns.
This black-and-white view of being with the president or against him has to end. It’s amazing what we can get done by practicing a more deliberative form of politics, and it leaves us a whole lot less drained at the end of the day. As long as this trend continues, this fight will keep going nowhere.
Kevin Hollinshead is a junior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.