Thursday, September 10, 2009
Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-SC) making his loud point, "You lie!"
The whole country knows by now that Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted, "You lie!" at President Obama from the House of Representatives floor as Obama asserted that his plan for health care change would not cover illegal immigrants. The House GOP leadership and Senator John McCain, among others, immediately called Wilson's outburst wrong, and Wilson apologized. Most conservative commentators chimed in to criticize Wilson, too, although some seemed to go out of their way to downplay Wilson's rudeness by pointing to Democrats having treated President George W. Bush with less than courtesy.
So that's the end of it, right?
I don't think so. Wilson's behavior is inexcusable, so he should be made to pay a price, not get away with an apologetic phone call to Rahm Emmanuel. There can be no excuse because:
-- When the President -- any President -- speaks to Congress, he does so as the guest of both Houses. If a member can't stand a President or what he has to say, the member can stay away and put out statements of disagreement. But you don't invite the guy and then heckle him.
-- A member of Congress should be setting an example of decorum, civility in political discourse, and simple decency. We understand that political combat can sometimes be rough, but there are limits we all recognize intuitively. Wilson shattered those limits.
-- The President is not only the head of government and the leader of his political party. He's also our head of state. That does not in any way insulate him from criticism, however harsh. But criticism should be leveled in a way that respects the office. That's why Democratic disrespect toward President Bush does not and should not excuse Wilson. If we allow this coarseness toward one President, we can be sure that the next President will be on the receiving end of worse.
OK, but since Wilson has a safe GOP seat and voters there probably won't rebuke him, what can be done?
One thing -- the most appropriate thing, in my view -- would be for his colleagues in the House Republican Caucus to pass a formal statement of censure. It would be awkward for House Republicans, but they would be applauded for not allowing this to rest with the usual meaningless apology. Plus, GOPers will be able to hold Democrats to the same high standard in the future.
What's your opinion? Post a comment.
UPDATE -- Some House Democrats are pushing Wilson to make an apology to the whole House on the floor and threatening a motion of censure if he doesn't. I think the more significant end to this story would be a censure from his fellow Republicans. A censure by the whole House, with its huge Democratic majority, would be just another round in the seemingly endless bitter partisan quarreling -- and likely a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.