The Dishonorable Joe Wilson… and friends

“…the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House…” – a portion of the resolution passed in the House of Representatives today admonishing Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for his outburst during last Wednesday’s joint session of Congress

Rep. Wilson screams "You lie!" as the President addresses Congress

Rep. Wilson screams "You lie!" as the President addresses Congress


While the latest Zogby poll shows the nation split right down the middle over President Obama’s performance, there is someone who has united Americans in disapproval.

No, not voice of a generation and gay fish Kanye West. We are talking about Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, whose 15 minutes of fame rests on being the only person in history admonished by the House of Representatives for heckling.

According to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, 68 percent of Americans disapprove of Rep. Wilson’s conduct.  21 percent approve, and 11 percent had no opinion. One of the more interesting findings of the poll is that a majority of Republicans, 52 percent, disagree with what Rep. Wilson did as well.

This is encouraging news. It evidences that while partisanship and the increasingly alarming rhetoric of the far right dominate headlines, most Americans still have a base level of decorum they expect their leaders to demonstrate. It means that Rep. Wilson’s actions served to hurt his cause more than help, as it should be when an immature, reactionary and anger-fueled philosophy emerges in the form and forum that most befits its abhorrent nature.

It means that the force moving the nation toward discord and dissolution remains a minority.

Rep. John Shadegg, Republican of Arizona, is not a member of that minority. Shadegg voted against the admonishment of his colleague today, but did not condone his actions. Rather, Shadegg’s angle on the proceedings was that the resolution was an act of hypocrisy, by Democrats who booed President Bush at the 2004 State of the Union address and several of whom called Bush a liar on the floor of Congress.

Notwithstanding that Bush was a liar (or let’s say prevaricator, since his sin lay in evading and perverting the truth rather than averring complete falsehoods), there is a substantial difference between booing a president as a caucus and rising, as an individual, to interrupt a joint session of Congress and nationally-televised address in order to make an ass of yourself. That deserves a rebuke.

Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, sadly, does occupy the minority faction. He seems to live in the same universe as the incoherent mass of malcontents who stormed into Washington over the weekend to blame Obama for every evil in human existence, from Stalinism to parachute pants.

Calling the vote a “shameful spectacle,” Franks issued a press release declaring the resolution a “waste of time, money, and effort, intended to distract for the substantive debate about health care, and those Members of Congress who have promoted this resolution should be ashamed of the partisan circus they have created.”

The fact that Rep. Franks blames the Democrats for creating the “partisan circus” rather than the man whose unprecedented and boorish actions prompted the vote is indicative of the lack of perspective from which he and his cohorts suffer. It is indeed a shame that an outburst by a man who should know better has increased the already excessive level of invective, and diverted attention away from one of the most crucial domestic policy debates in the nation’s history, but punishing him for doing so is nothing more than the correct response.

Such a breach of decorm is worth the time, money and effort it took to sanction it. The American public recognizes the assualt on respectful discourse Rep. Wilson’s tantrum represented. The true shame is that some of our leaders still do not.


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