16 September 2009

Representative Joe Wilson (SC) is quite the household word this week, at least in political households.  His cry of “You Lie!” during Obama’s health care speech to a joint Congressional audience has sparked furor on both sides, as well as what is, these days, a sizeable middle:  He’s Out of Line! vs. He’s a Hero! vs. He’s kind of a schmuck, but whatever, can we turn the page now?

As I see it, the facts of the situation lay out like this:  Obama made what I interpret as an accurate depiction of the health bill not paying for services for illegal immigrants, Wilson yelled “You Lie!” amid a rather noisy group of grumbling Republicans, imageNancy Pelosi delivered a most excellent death stare,  the bulk of our Senators and Representatives vented their displeasure via more loud grumbling, Wilson started doing HealthReformSpeech-9Sep2009-Obama,Pelosi,Biden-YouLieMoment-800x537something with his Blackberry (or whatever), and the speech moved on.  Later, Obama accepted an apology from Wilson, Pelosi agreed that this was sufficient, other members of Congress pressured Wilson to apologize to Congress, the Republicans rose to Wilson’s defense (both of his point of view, and of his right to vent his spleen during a speech by his President), and then the House of Representatives voted 240 to 179 to formally reprimand Mr. Wilson, in the following form (this is from Thomas, Library of Congress):


H. Res. 744

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,
September 15, 2009.


Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and

Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

Now, there is a flurry of upset on the right wing, protesting that Mr. Wilson was just speaking the truth, that after all, he was just calling a spade a spade, as my dad used to say.  Except for the FACT that Wilson is calling a heart a spade… but I digress.  The flurry is all about how the supposed rightness of Wilson’s accusation excuses his lousy behavior.  Or that he was criticized by members of congress and the press because they don’t like what he said.

Myself, I don’t like how he said it.  I think Wilson is wrong – the bill does prohibit funding health care for illegal aliens – but I defend his right to spout whatever nonsense he likes.  He has to put up with the likes of journalists telling him he has the facts wrong, but he has every right to say what he thinks.

But I don’t support his right to spout nonsense just anywhere.  For instance, during a gathering of both houses of Congress, in attendance at a formal presentation by the President of the United States.  I’m all for dissent, and free speech, and voicing one’s mind, but honestly, there are some situations in which it’s just bad form.

I don’t support, for instance, loud noisy protests about gay marriage or abortion in or around anti-gay or anti-abortion churches.  I don’t think screaming at minimum-wage employees is a valid way to attack corporate greed.  I don’t support the wisdom, however it may fall under free speech rules, of the Westboro Baptists who protest at funerals of fallen soldiers because they think God is angry at the US for being so warm and fuzzy toward gay people.

All of these kinds of protests may or may not be legal, but they are certainly rude and inappropriate.   And so I support the House in their on-record displeasure with Representative Wilson’s out-of-line behavior, because the House has every right to maintain somewhat harmonious debates within its walls.

After all, with all of the brouhaha this past summer during the Town Hall health care meetings, often rising to minor physical violence and some extreme verbal sparring, it’s no wonder the House wants to set the boundary:  that went too far, back it off, settle down, and start behaving like grownups instead of school yard bullies.

Mr. Wilson should be ashamed, not of his point of view, but his incredibly rude display of it.  I suspect his self-righteousness will prevent him from ever truly understanding what he did wrong.