I didn’t see the president’s speech on health care reform last night, because it fell right in the middle of the kids’ bedtime. I read about it afterwards. But I couldn’t believe this until I’d seen it myself.
It happened at 8:40 pm, just after the president vowed to lawmakers that his health-care reform proposals would not provide benefits to illegal immigrants. As millions of Americans watched from home, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted at the president from his fifth-row seat: “You lie!”
Murmurs of “ooh” filled the stunned chamber. Nancy Pelosi’s chin dropped. Obama moved on to the next sentence in his speech, about how no federal money would be used to fund abortion. “Not true!” came another shout.
Apparently, we need a new rule: Congress is strictly for grown-ups only. If, in the future, we need to have a “grown-ups table” and a separate “children’s table” — so that the adults can hear what the president is actually saying, and the children can make all the noise they want and not bother anybody — so be it.
That may well necessary in the future, given the behavior exhibited by Republican “leadership” last night.
The national debate, already raw for years, had coarsened over the summer as town hall meetings across the country dissolved into protests about “death panels” and granny-killing. Guns were brought to Obama appearances. A pastor in Arizona said he was praying for Obama to die.
But even by that standard, there was something appalling about the display on the House floor for what was supposed to be a sacred ritual of American democracy: the nation watching while Cabinet members, lawmakers from both chambers and the diplomatic corps assembled.
Wilson was only the most flagrant. There was booing from House Republicans when the president caricatured a conservative argument by saying they would “leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.” They hissed when he protested their “scare tactics.” They grumbled as they do in Britain’s House of Commons when Obama spoke of the “blizzard of charges and countercharges.”
When he asserted that “nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have,” there was scoffing and outright laughter on the GOP side. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) shook his head in disbelief. Several Republicans shouted “What plan?” and Rep. Louis Gohmert (Tex.) waved at Obama a handwritten poster he made on a letter-size piece of paper: “WHAT PLAN?” Gohmert then took that down and replaced it with another handmade poster that said “WHAT BILL?”
Frankly, I’m kind of glad I missed the speech. Not because of the speech itself, but because the Republican “response” would have put me in the enviable position of explaining to Parker that “We don’t act the way you see those members of Congress acting.” It’s come to this. I now expect better behavior from my six-year-old than I expect from supposedly grown-up members of Congress.
That Republicans are belatedly embarassed by Wilson’s behavior means little. GOP leadership has stood silent as the debate degenerated into shouted sloganeering and outright violence. Not only have they failed to condemn the basest behavior of their base, but have instead defended it. What they cannot stop through reasoned persuasion, or factual support (because the facts are not on their side, and Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” was a lie) they attempt to strop through disuption, volume, and even violence. There are at least a few words to describe this tactic — some of which start with “T”.
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now. Conservatives aren’t interested in solving the problems American’s are facing. If they were, they’d offer solutions in stead of shouted slogans. They are bent on disrupting and derailing any national discourse on reform, because there’s a Democratic majority in Congress, and a Democrat in the White House.
And not just any Democratic president, but this Democratic president. Coming on the heels of the “manufactured hissy fit” in response to the president encouraging students to set goals and work hard in school, the disinformation campaign against health care reform, and the “birther movement” itself, this latest outburst makes one thing clear: conservatives are beholden to a base that does not believe Barack Obama can legitimately be president, or should be president, and thus will be opposed to anything he does as president — even the most innocuous.
It hardly matters that Republicans like John McCain have criticized Wilson’s behavior, and even less that Wilson has phoned in an apology … to Rahm Emanuel, and offered a written apology. That because Wilson’s shout wasn’t so much for the president as the people back in South Carolina and across the country whose anger has at least as much to do with who the president is — if not more — than what Obama wants to do. He can’t “man up” and apologize in person, as Rep. Jim Clyburn suggested, than GOP leadership could denounce the disruption and violence of last month’s town hall meetings. Because to do so would signal some degree of respect for the president — both the man and the office — and thus undermine the intended message to that base.
The message to the rest of the country, should be loud and clear by now. If we want a solution to the health care crisis — or any other problem Americans are facing in their communities and families — we’ll have to do it without them.
My kids are growing up learning at least a few of things. Throwing a tantrum will not:
- get you what you want
- get you any positive attention
- stop us from going to the grocery store, leaving the playground, going to bed, or reforming health care, etc.
You’ll wear yourself out — and probably make more trouble for yourself than you had before — and we’ll move right along anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, the same should apply to members of Congress. Why should we put up with behavior from them that we wouldn’t accept from a child?
It can’t be said that every effort wasn’t made to include them in the dialogue, or that noone tried to invite them to the table. It’s clear they’re not interested in dialogue, and not ready for the grow-ups table. We can’t afford to wait for them to grow up and come to the table on their own.
We’ll have to start without them.