By now I assume everyone has heard that South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson heckled President Obama during the latter’s big health care speech on Wednesday. When Obama claimed that there was nothing in his bill that would extend health insurance to illegal aliens, the congressman yelled out “You lie!”
By doing so Wilson showed that there are at least three different ways in which he is a jerk. First, there is the sheer, childish rudeness of heckling a President. This is really what it’s come to? We can not agree anymore that when the President addresses a joint session of Congress you should wait until after the speech to express your disapproval?
The really dismaying thing is that quite a few normally sensible people are taking the “We have a President, not a King!” line on this. This took its saddest form in an amazingly dumb statement from Glenn Greenwald:
Eugene Robinson today absurdly calls the GOP’s disrespectful behavior at Obama’s speech “un-American.” Right-wing contempt for Obama is often petty, deeply emotional and ugly — just like right-wing leaders themselves. But the demand that the President be venerated and treated as royalty is far more “un-American” than disruptive transgressions of etiquette. Wilson’s heckling was juvenile and dumb, but that’s all it was.
“Un-American” is a word I try to avoid, but it is not half so absurd as suggesting that expecting people to be civil when attending a Presidential speech is the equivalent of asking for veneration and royal treatment. I’m pretty sure the royal treatment involves more than just not being heckled. Wilson’s outburst was more than just juvenile and dumb. It was one further step in our decline from deliberative democracy to one of those countries where legislators routinely break into fist fights. It is proof that even at the highest levels of government the idea of civil discourse is no longer valued, at least among one of the two major parties.
Make no mistake, Joe Wilson is a hero among Republicans today. He has secured his reelection (don’t be fooled by the temporary fund-raising spike for his opponent), and he has a bright future ahead of him if the Republicans ever retake Congress. Which they are likely to do before too long given how worthless and ineffective the Democrats seem determined to be.
Secondly, he is a jerk for being wrong on the facts. The bills under consideration by the Congress contain explicit language stating that none of the benefits of the bill would extend to illegal aliens. Keith Olbermann, as usual, expressed it well:
Of course you let your emotions get the best of you. At a figure of $435,296 in campaign donations from the Health Sector, of course your emotions would take over when your gravy train was threatened.
It isn’t about “inappropriate and regrettable,” Sir!
Your comments were inappropriate and regrettable and…. **wrong**! You got up in front of the world, embarrassed your district, embarrassed your state, embarrassed your party, embarrassed your nation, shouted at the President like he was a referee at a ballgame and you were a drunk in the stands, and you were wrong.
House Bill 3200 specifically says, Sir, in language made precise and binding — in section 246 — under the heading, quote:
“NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS”
Look, Congressman! All capital letters! For the benefit of the factually-challenged!
“Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.”
You got it wrong! There is no ambiguity, Sir. There is no disagreement!
The bill says those here illegally will not be covered; yet whether through stupidity or a willful attempt to mislead the gullible, you decided to spend whatever credibility remained to you on a position in which you are utterly, inarguably, and — in a manner obvious to newborns and the more sophisticated of farm animals — wrong!
You apologize for your lack of civility?
When are you going to apologize for your lack of… being right?
And, of course, we can hardly forget the immortal words of Richard Dawkins, directed towards a comically clueless reviewer of his book The Selfish Gene: “We are in danger of assuming that no one would dare to be so rude without taking the elementary precaution of being right in what she said.”
But the biggest way in which Wilson was a jerk was in his bizarre obsession with illegal aliens in the first place. We have forty-six million uninsured people, exploding health care costs, and an insurance industry that does everything it possible can to avoid paying out on its policies, and people like Wilson are worried that a few pennies might go to illegal aliens? That’s what he cares about?
How mindlessly venomous do you have to be to have your priorities that out of whack?
The Democrats, always eager to look craven and spineless, have already found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The White House, fresh off their big caves to Glenn Beck on the subject of hiring decisions, seems to be going for a bit of the bigot love:
The White House strengthened its stand against health care coverage for illegal immigrants Friday, and a pivotal Senate committee looked ready to follow its lead.
The developments reflected a renewed focus on the issue in the days since a Republican congressman’s outburst during President Barack Obama’s health care speech to Congress on Wednesday night. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” as Obama said illegal immigrants wouldn’t be covered under his health plan.
Apparently fearing that other Democrats were looking weaker than she, Nancy Pelosi has decided to rain down a little hell on Congressman Wilson:
Democratic leaders initially showed mixed interest in punishing Wilson. But they decided at a meeting late Thursday that they probably will propose a resolution of disapproval early next week if he doesn’t apologize to Congress, said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
While not a formal censure or reprimand, the resolution, if passed as expected, would put Congress on record as condemning Wilson’s conduct.
A resolution of disapproval? Let’s not do anything hasty here. This calls for immediate discussion.
All of this focus on Wilson does, at least, distract from the fact that Obama’s much praised speech was actually one big cave to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. It was basically saying that the health industry owns enough Democrats to make sure that meaningful health reform can not pass. Robert Reich explains things well:
Where’s the White House? For months now, it’s been straddling the fence — reassuring the Dem base that the President is with them (he did it as recently as Monday with a rousing speech to organized labor), while at the same time nodding and winking in the direction of the private insurers and Big Pharma. Last spring the White House agreed to Big Pharma’s demand that Medicare not be permitted to negotiate low drug prices in return for Pharma’s agreement to support the health care bill emerging from the Senate Finance Committee. Since then it has quietly told private insurers that it will work with Senate Finance to find less potent alternatives to the public option, such as Kent Conrad’s “cooperatives” or Olympia Snowe’s “trigger” mechanism, in return for the private insurers’ support of the compromise. And it has told the private insurers and Big Pharma that it will not support a surtax on the wealthy.
Obama’s Wednesday night speech reassured the Democratic base that the President is deeply committed to getting universal coverage. But the speech also made clear that the White House has decided to side with the Senate Finance Committee and against the Democratic base on the details.