It was disgusting.
Someone yelled out and interrupted President Obama’s speech last night on health care with the words, “You lie!” The president was in the middle of saying that Democratic health proposals would not cover illegal immigrants.
For a moment everyone sat stunned by the outburst.
“No president has ever been treated like that. Ever,” said White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel who after the speech immediately sought out senior Republican lawmakers urging them to identify the heckler (the outburst came from Emmanuel so he wasn’t sure who it was). Emmanuel demanded that Republican leaders see to it that an apology be issued to the President of the United States pronto.
It didn’t take long for the heckler to be identified. Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina.
It was hard enough watching Republicans scowling in unison during the president’s speech, but Wilson’s outburst was over the top. Disrespectful. Offensive. Outrageous. Treasonous, even. But let’s be honest: Wilson’s outburst was typical of the sort of antics Republicans specialize in to disrupt public forums on any topic about the common good.
That said, let me be clear: Let it not be said that those of us who are outraged at Wilson’s antics are some of the same ones who guffawed at, gave each other hi 5’s, and relished passing around the video showing an Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at Bush last December at a press conference. You can’t sanction shoe throwing because it supports your feelings about Bush, and turn around and condemn Republican vitriol because you love and support His O-ness (a fellow blogger affectionately term for Obama). Be suspicious of a president. Disagree with a President. Despise a president if you want. But protocol stands. Respect the office. Be civil.
Now I’m not one who’d go so far as the prophet Paul who in a desperate attempt to protect the budding Christian movement from any hint of scandal of being labeled insurrectionists and rabblrousers writes in Romans 13:1-3 urging followers to submit to government, saying that all authority comes from God and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. I can sympathize with Paul’s dilemma, but I can’t go there with you Paul. Blacks would still be slaves, women would still be chattel, and the poor and disenfranchised would be ground to dust by the rich and powerful if we swallowed that divine authority rationale without critical examination.
But I do get the point about respecting leadership and the office of a leader, even when I disagree with leadership and think the leader is a moron.
Speaking of former President Bush, like many I was not impressed with W and was convinced he was a puppet for the regressive political agenda of right-wing conservatives. Regardless, I did not delight in seeing the former President in the humiliating position as a world leader of dodging shoes hurled at him at a press conference. I winced at seeing the video when CNN ran it over and over. I refused to participate in the hoopla as it made its round in blogosphere.
It was just a matter of time before last night’s outburst was going to happen. Civil disagreement has gone the way of the typewriter. Vitriol, humiliation, acrimony, put downs are the way public discourse goes these days, especially when the cameras are rolling. From the outrageous fist fights that break out on talk shows like the Maury Pouvich show, to the sulpurous rancor passing for journalism on Fox News, to the tactless, hurtful comments judges make to contestants on America’s Next Whatever, to the caustic yelling matches that go on at town hall meetings. Calling an American president a lie at a speech by the President in the joint halls of Congress may be an insult that’s never been displayed on American soil before, but the ground for it has long been in the making. That it happened on an African American president’s watch makes many of us want to go banshee. If yelling down Obama in the halls of Congress can happen, what’s next? Don’t answer that.
A confession is in order. I have a vested interest in this topic. As a minister and former professor, I know first hand how fragile power and authority actually are. There have been occasions when I’ve had to stare down racist, disrespectful detractors who came intent upon ‘dissing my authority and showing me up as incompetent or not worthy of the honor others held for me. What did they have against me? Who knows? That I was female, young, black, liberal, nappy headed, a womanist, my position on a topic, that I was just different… Take your pick. But I had a job to do. And if I’d let them have their way I’d lose the rest of the audience and the cause that had brought me before them.
The morning after Obama’s speech to the Congress on health care colleagues on both sides of the aisle have condemned Wilson for his behavior. Wilson has issued a private apology to the White House, but few of us looking on take it as serious. The President has accepted the apology which he must in order to look presidential. But I join others in calling for his O-ness to toughen and wise up and stop playing concilator with folks aiming arrows at his throat.
If it’s alright to throw shoes at presidents, if free speech is the defense for yelling “you lie” to the president as he stands speaking before the American people (or anyone else who has the floor at the moment), then don’t be shocked or offended when it’s your turn to take the mike and no one is impressed when you introduce yourself as the one now in charge.
How does the saying go? You reap what you sow.
Join me in writing and calling Congressman Wilson’s office and voicing your condemnation of last night disrespectful antics against the President of the United States. You can call (803) 939-0041 /Fax: 202-225-2455. / U.S. Mail: The Midlands’ Office 1700 Sunset Bl……vd (US 378), Suite 1. West Columbia , SC 29169. (Someone send me his email address.)
Better yet, put your money where your mouth is: open your wallets and join thousands of others across the country who are so offended by Wilson’s outburst that they’re donating $25 to to Rob Miller’s Democratic campaign to unseat Joe Wilson there in South Carolina.