A theme of this blog going back to its earliest days is my repeated and escalating sadness at the decline in the quality and timbre of political discourse in the United States. Congressman Joe Wilson, however, pushed the already-low floor down even further last night when he heckled the President of the United States giving a speech to Congress.
Look, I don’t know if the health care reform bill will authorize payment to illegal aliens or not. I know, though, that respect for the office, if not the man, requires that the President be allowed to make a speech interrupted only by applause. If you disagree with what the President says, you withhold your applause — your refusal to applaud will be noted. Calling out “You lie!” during a Presidential address is quite simply unacceptable, and I will add my voice to that chorus.
Now, Congressman Wilson was quick to apologize to President Obama after the speech, and the President graciously accepted his apology. So as between these two politicians, the incident was over. For him, a degree of shame for breaching the standards of minimally acceptable behavior for an alleged grownup in the profession of politics should be sufficient punishment from here on out. I also note that his likely Democratic opponent in next year’s election raised $200,000 overnight, which is another indication that the body politic still possesses some ability to self-correct these sorts of incidents.
For myself, I note that a) Democrats did this sort of thing too, but b) that is no excuse whatsoever, and c) this incident is part of a large spectrum of Americans apparently losing the ability to deal with disagreement. Back in 2001, Democrats made a point of referring to “Governor” Bush, and it has been all downhill since then, up through last week’s political rally here in California that got all bitey.
And now this.
This is not a partisan issue, because people from both sides of the spectrum do it. Here’s the deal — possessing the self-control necessary to listen to someone say something you disagree with is about the minimum level of political skill necessary to participate meaningfully in a democracy. A shocking number of Americans, now including a sitting member of Congress, have demonstrated that they lack this ability. If this erosion of a very minimal political skill cannot be arrested, very bad things could happen to us.