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Lies, incivility, and hypocrisy

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Opinions


<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot

Two words were all it took for Joe Wilson to catapult from a mostly unknown representative to a political lightning rod. Two words, vitalized by vitriol, turned what might’ve been just another one of President Obama’s pleas to pass the healthcare bill into a media sensation. When the Republican representative from South Carolina violently interrupted the President’s speech with his accusation, he completely changed the dynamic of the night. Suddenly, everyone’s attention shifted from the ever sickening health care reform effort to the outburst heard round the political world.

This outburst, which was in response to the President stating that the public option in the health care bill would not cover illegal aliens, was unprecedented in modern politics. In fact, one would have to go back to when Preston Brooks brutally assaulted Charles Sumner with a cane to find an incident so outrageous and unexpected. Immediately, the representative was shouted down by his peers, and he was condemned by both parties (ironically the only instance of bipartisanship in recent memory).

The uproar was not so much over the message of the interjection. Free speech is tolerated and there are many who would agree with the representative. Instead it is the manner in which he expressed this sentiment that is so offensive. When Presidents of the United States are making speeches, you do not rudely interrupt them with your opinions. They are the ones speaking for your benefit (whether you like what they are saying or not) and any school of manners will testify to the extreme impoliteness of interrupting them.

President Obama, whether you like him or not, is the democratically elected leader of this country and therefore demands a certain amount of respect in public, especially from elected officials. Even when partisanship is at its worst, an elected official should still give a president the respect due to his office. What Representative Wilson did was reprehensible, regardless of his message, and it’s only right that he should be condemned for his actions. One hopes that, at least when the President of the United States has the floor, Congress could show some sense of decorum.

The second overlying problem with Wilson’s brief editorial was the message. Not only did it brand him as ignorant (for disputing what is literally in the language of the bill) but also a hypocrite. The healthcare reform bill has legislation in it that specifically forbids giving healthcare to illegal immigrants. One must wonder what Representative Wilson was looking for in order to make sure that his concerns were answered. The point which Wilson contested was already specifically addressed, which makes his actions even less tolerable.

However, there’s nothing less tolerant than hypocritical obnoxiousness. While he accused the President of falsehoods, he conveniently forgot to mention the myriad lies being purported by his own party. It’s not the fact that the healthcare bill is being bombarded that is bothersome; this is a healthy part of democracy and a sign that even with a Democratic majority in every branch of government, there is still healthy debate over new legislation. It is when this debate devolves into lies and bitter accusations that the situation turns sour.

Take for example the absolutely ridiculous notion that this healthcare bill will somehow result in “government death panels” deciding who lives or dies. This idea is so outlandish that it would seem to speak against itself, but there are subtler lies which sway more sane constituents. For example, the idea that the healthcare bill will result in some rationing of healthcare or that it will result in a completely government run healthcare program (and here the magic word socialism appears). This accusation conveniently fails to note that the public option will provide rudimentary healthcare for those who simply can’t afford it.

Those more fortunate persons who wish for more comprehensive healthcare can keep their current plans. While the bill may force the insurance companies to lower rates to gain the lower class workers who shy over to the public option, this is healthy competition which will ensure that insurance remains affordable (and it will end the nightmare of being uninsured for forty-seven million people). This is not even close to socialized healthcare, in which there would be no competition for the insurance companies.

Thus, the representative from South Carolina not only accuses the president without merit, but also conveniently glosses over his own party’s problem with telling the truth. It doesn’t help that his accusation is so utterly baseless and just another example of a groundless smear attack upon the healthcare bill. There are still some problems with the reform bill, and I agree with a few of the Republican contentions (especially about the lack of tort reform) but to express such asinine views in such a brusque and uncivil way belittles not only one’s self but one’s party and one’s political system as a whole.

Representative Wilson, please do everyone a favor; the next time you feel like castigating the president during one of his speeches without any foundation, start a blog and save us all the trouble.