Remember That Time When...?
Remember that time when the President was giving a speech to a special joint session of congress, outlining his ideas for health care reform and was attempting to clarify what he considered to be misperceptions, and right then, right there in the middle of his clarifying, someone shouted, "You lie!"? Yeah...that was something, wasn't it?
That someone would be Rep. Joe Wilson – a Republican from South Carolina, a state where elected officials have often had their own troublesome relationship with truth.
Heads snapped. Faces dropped. Frowns. Sneers. Somewhere an angel cried. It was as if someone had passed gas during communion. You could hear the needle scratch across the record as everything came to a full stop for a moment.
Wilson seemed to realize immediately that he had messed up and began to study his Blackberry intently – the way Jimmy Connors used to look at the strings of his racquet whenever he hit a bad shot. Until then I never thought a full-grown man could hide behind something the size of a deck of cards. Perhaps he’d only meant to post his comment on Twitter and was no wondering how he had somehow gotten the two forms of communication mixed up.
I had been on Facebook earlier and had seen many people electronically shouting similar messages at the President. I guess it’s okay to call someone a liar when you know they’re not reading your Facebook status updates, but doing it while you’re sitting in the same room with them is anathema.
Never mind the fact that Democratic Senator Harry Reid (NV) once said, “President Bush is a liar.” This was different…somehow. It was a formal setting, and it was live on television, and the President was standing right there where he could hear it. At least Harry had the good sense to do it when the President was out of earshot.
Joe Wilson said something rude and uncalled for. Regardless of its whether it was true or not, it showed a lack of judgment and diplomacy – two character traits we should probably look for when electing representatives. He quickly apologized, and the President accepted his apology.
Still, the next day, this was the headline story for every news-related website. Men and women from both sides of the political spectrum denounced it, calling it unprecedented, demanding he be censured. The man Wilson had beaten during the election the previous November received a huge cash infusion – just in case he wanted to run again. Only time will tell whether or not Wilson loses his job over it or if this episode gets tossed onto the giant pile of embarrassing but long-forgotten outbursts that so frequently emanate from our nation’s capital.
Let me be clear: I wish Rep. Joe Wilson had more self-control. He admitted shortly after the speech that he let his emotions get the best of him. I think shouting “You lie!” in the middle of a televised speech is foolish and counterproductive.
But I’m not so sure it should be viewed as any kind of game ender. Wilson’s not the first congressman to lose his temper. Obama’s not the first president to fudge the truth.
Politics, for some reason, just seems to make ordinarily sane and rational people misbehave.
So, what shall we do? Should we move to a compound somewhere and withdraw from the political process altogether? Buy an island somewhere for Christians only and offer some sort of theocratic legal system? Put your head down and pretend everything's a-okay? Throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care?
How should we think about politics -- especially when we encounter someone whose political ideology is different from our own?