Representative Joe Wilson yelled at the president last night. His outburst was a departure from the normal etiquette of the chamber, and was rebuked by Republicans almost as quickly as Democrats. He apologized to the President and the President’s chief of staff almost immediately, and was torn to pieces by several columnists and commentators throughout the post mortem.
Representative Joe Wilson is a passionate defender of his constituents and a deeply committed patriot. His outburst represents the norm in today’s idealized debate, and accurately reflects the feelings of perhaps one third of the American public. His actions last night, calling the President a liar when he insisted that he had never tried to get illegal aliens coverage during the health care debate, are a microcosm of the whole process.
This whole exercise, from its beginning this past spring, through the tumultuous summer, and on to the present, has been a succession of angry and off target attacks. What began with so much bipartisan progress has degenerated into a hate-filled contest of shouting and name-calling. It seems like the American people have been rounded up and placed, against their will, into typically politicized groups; Marxist, freedom hating reformers, or greedy pro-business insurance stooges. Missing, of course, is a rational debate over an issue constructed on a foundation of well documented facts.
The rational middle has detailed the facts over the past several weeks and, along with many more prominent sources, has begged for a reasoned debate. I am hopeful that Joe Wilson’s war will be learned from. His passionate response last evening was both out of order and factually wrong; HR 3200 along with all of the President’s statements have been specific in their exclusion of illegal aliens for benefits. Rep. Wilson was doing what so many other Americans have done over the last few months; he was reacting to bad information he received from people he trusted, about plans being presented by someone he fundamentally does not trust.
To restate, there is nothing wrong about distrusting the President. As a point of fact, it is an American principle to distrust the President and other elected officials. The responsibility borne by all Americans that goes with the right to distrust is the mandate to search for facts. A citizen with the time to write a letter to the editor, attend a town hall meeting, or post an email to their congressman, has the time to get on the Internet and look up specific provisions in bills before Congress. Furthermore, Senators and Representatives, equipped as they are with paid and volunteer staff, are always the ability to verify facts about legislation.
This summer has largely been a time where folks on every side of the issue have neglected their responsibility to verify, while taking advantage of their right to be heard. This is a dangerous reality that can and should be corrected by citizens acting responsibly. Additionally, legislators who think that Limbaugh and Maddow, Olberman and O’Reilly, and Matthews and Beck, are final sources for information do their constituents a disservice.
Perhaps the President’s speech, including Joe Wilson’s disturbance and the fair and civil GOP response from Representative Boustany, will serve as the beginning of a civil debate that, once and for all, shapes a reform bill that Americans from every party, state, and ideology can be proud of.
We can still get good things done in our country, and in our government. Maybe it is because I still believe in fairy tales, but I think this democracy….our democracy…still works.
The rational middle hopes for your commentary….