BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Everyone’s talking about Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). He instantly became the new symbol of Republican obstinacy in the face of healthcare reform when he screamed “You lie!” in the middle of President Obama’s insistence that illegal immigrants will not be covered under his healthcare reform plan in his speech before Congress Wednesday night.
Wilson’s Republican colleagues quickly disapproved of his reaction. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called it “totally disrespectful” and, along with other members of Congress, called for an immediate apology.
Glenn Thrush at the right-of-center news Web site Politico seemed to think the actions of Republicans such as Wilson did more to galvanize support for healthcare reform than Obama’s own speech:
All eyes were on Barack Obama entering Wednesday night’s address to Congress, but a little-known South Carolina Republican may have done more than the president’s combative speech to unify besieged Democrats around health care reform…
Republicans — some of whom expressed open contempt for Obama by scanning their BlackBerrys or holding up copies of GOP bills during the speech — saw the president’s remarks as a Democratic call to arms that belied the president’s oft-repeated calls for bipartisanship.
“I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech,” said Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult — not less — to find common ground.”
That last comment is somewhat amusing coming from Graham, who spent the entire speech combatively scowling and rolling his eyes at the commander-in-chief, as did other high-ranking conservatives such as House Republican Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor.
Democratic strategist Robert Cramer suggested making an example of Wilson’s immature theatrics, naming him the “poster ‘child’ for the new Republican Party.” It looks like at least one Democrat in Congress had that idea, too. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters after the speech that “the person who said it will pay a price.”
Republicans may have been quick to distance themselves, but everyone seems to be jumping on the “scapeJoe” bandwagon. Even his Democratic South Carolina colleague, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, wrote the outburst off as Joe just being Joe.
No one in Congress wants to admit that the legislative branch is in this much disrepair, except perhaps for the straight-talking Vice President Joe Biden, who said the whole affair made him “embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love.”
But in reality, both Wilson and the popular reaction to him are examples of a lot of huffing and puffing, in an attempt to throw Wilson under the slowly-rolling congressional healthcare bus. The best evidence of this was the official Republican response to the president’s healthcare speech. Each pundit’s reaction to the response was virtually the same: This is a tough job assignment and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) did the best that could have been expected. Blah, blah blah.
Boustany was an interesting choice for the GOP. He’s a heart surgeon and a quiet supporter of the birther movement who co-sponsored legislation in support of what Sarah Palin and others called “death panels.” He’s also received significant donations from the health care industry and once tried to buy himself the honorary British title of “Lord,” without success.
But if you listened to his words Wednesday night, instead of just watching how little he resembled his state’s governor, Bobby Jindal, he sounded an awful lot like Wilson. Boustany repeated distortions about “government-run healthcare” and what the Congressional Budget Office has said about the cost of the plan. He insisted his party has “been ready to work with the president” this whole time, when anyone with one eye half open could see the GOP has been working to sink the healthcare reform effort from the very beginning.
You lie, Mr. Boustany. And keep in mind, folks: Boustany’s remarks were his party’s official response. This is where they stand.
It may not be as exciting as someone interrupting the president to scream at him, but it’s all part of the same strategy. Wilson is being a baby, but the whole party is being disingenuous. And that’s more important than all the fiery conflict on the Hill. Because, reprehensible as it may seem, one can negotiate with children. But if those children aren’t willing to play by the rules and tell the truth at least some of the time, there’s no point.
While Politico and countless other pundits are quick to point out how Democrats were spurred to action by the impoliteness of their conservative colleagues, I’m not so sure Wilson et. al. threw the game on this one, thanks to the collective willful delusion in Washington.
The most clear-eyed analysis I heard immediately after the speech was from Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) who called the speech a Rorschach Test on Charlie Rose’s show, meaning everyone gets to see in it what they want to see. The media clearly focused on Wilson because conflict is what they look for. And lawmakers quickly dismissed him as an over-excited outlier because they still want to see the myth of Olympia Snowe and bipartisanship.
But truthfully, nothing has changed. As Salon.com’s Joan Walsh points out, Snowe and Republicans have made themselves “irrelevant” to the healthcare debate by now. And they know that.
But as long as the public pays attention to the childish antics of Joe Wilson, it’s not necessary to look at the lies and corruption evident in this debate. We can all claim ownership of Obama’s vision of optimism about the basic character of the American people, as embodied by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy:
[Kennedy] was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent –- there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.
That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others –- is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
I am clearly not the believer in bipartisanship that our president professes to be. But that appeal to our better instincts as Americans aroused more hope than I’d felt for a long time. I would like to believe in what Obama said at the end of his speech, that we will accomplish this “because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.”
And perhaps we will. But just as it is in our national character to reject negotiations with terrorists, so to should it be a part of who we are to not negotiate with liars.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS