What Happened To Our Civility?

By: Frank Bilotta | Posted: 05th January 2010

I wonder when we'll be able to return to a period of greater civility and common decency in in both our own local public political meetings as well as in our own House of Representatives. Of course, I am referring to the outburst of a Congressman Joseph Wilson, R-SC., who screamed out loud, "You lie', when President Obama denied (accurately) that illegal immigrants would be covered under his health care proposal.

Immediately, after his loud outburst, The president, Vice-President Joe Biden, and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi all glared condescendingly in the direction of Wilson sitting among his colleagues from his home state. Democrats in the house shouted "Shame on you" while his own republican brethren even booed the comment. After all, Joe Wison broke the chamber's strict etiquette by yelling this out directly at the President of the United States as he addressed a joint session of Congress.

Shortly after the speech ended, Wilson, feeling more than a little heat from his fellow members, called the White House and apologized to Rahm Emmanuel, the president's chief of staff. Later, it was also reported that it was done so at the GOP leadership's request. The very next day, the congressman's website and phone lines were knocked out due to the heavy volume, and his Democratic opponent in 2010, Rob Miller, received $ 400,000 in campaign donations within a 24 hour period.

"As a former Marine, I was always trained to respect the chain of command," Miller said. "I was surprised that Congressman Wilson would disrespect the commander-in-chief on national television. His actions really exemplify everything that's wrong in Washington. Shouting and name-calling have no place when we're dealing with such important issues."

But to the reform plan's most combative opponents, Wilson emerged as something of a hero. His Facebook page registered 1,200 comments, many of them strongly supporting his outburst and criticizing him only for backing down. A Facebook user named Bugs wrote, "We need to find an antidote to the Obama Kool-aid. You go, Joe!"

Is this the kind of behavior we are willing to accept from from our elected officials in Washington or in our home states, cities, and towns? I doubt it.

If this kind of behavior is acceptable and becomes more commonplace in the halls of our government's institutions, then we can hardly ever expect the citizens of our nation to respect the laws and those whose duty it is to enforce them. For a guy like Mr. Wilson to call the president a liar on the floor of the house, the harm done may last long after the din of cheers and applause for the president died out on Wednesday night.

These kinds of antics seem to have stemmed out of the poor behavior by some at the public town meetings held for a discussion of the national health care reform bill being proposed. All the opponents of the president's plan had to do was scream, holler, and shout down those speakers who were duly elected representatives and senators, and they'd create an out of control disturbance for the evening news audience. They would resort to name calling and do anything they could to disrupt the meeting in order to create as unruly a picture as possible for television. To many long-time political observers, they had never seen such a planned, organized effort to discredit health care reform as they had seen at these town hall meetings last summer.

A conservative republican, Joe Wilson, admitted that his comment was 'inappropriate and regrettable', and he has apologized to the president, but he still can't take it back. He said it. It's out there, and everybody in the house chamber and in their own house watching the speech that night heard it. After all, if our elected officials are unable to conduct the business affairs of state in a civil, respectable manner, then they'd better be prepared to see a further breakdown in civility among its citizenry. In the future, all anyone who has a run-in with law and decides to flaunt his disrespect for authority would have to do is think of the congressman from South Carolina who called the president a liar, and got away with it. Or did he?

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Democrat whose congressional district abuts Wilson's, said he wasn't satisfied with his fellow South Carolinian's apology to the White House. Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, threatened Wilson with an official House sanction unless he issued an apology to his fellow lawmakers. "Either he can deal with it or the House can deal with it," Clyburn told reporters. "If he does not apologize to the members of the House, then I think a resolution will probably be introduced, and we will go from there."

Clyburn and other Democratic House leaders have a range of options, from a resolution of disapproval to a measure expressing full censure of Wilson.

Unfortunately, if the house does decide to take this path, we may not have heard the last from Joe Wilson. And he may not be through with the name-calling.

In a bipartisan spirit, both democratic and republican lawmakers present at the nationally televised speech, seen on all local channels on Dish Network, Wednesday night denounced the comment by Wilson,the 5th term congressman from South Carolina.
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Tags: illegal immigrants, national television