Friday, September 11, 2009

Priorities, Incivility, Corporate Justice, Race and Joe Wilson

In what is becoming an infamous moment, South Carolina Representative Joseph Wilson blurted out "You Lie!" during President Barack Obama's live televised message to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening, September 9, 2009. President Obama was passionately urging Congress to reform health care in the United States and end business as usual in connection with America's broken health care system. While Representative Wilson's outburst has been roundly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans, and while Wilson has apologized for his outrageous act of incivility, much deeper issues underly this unprecedented outburst.

First, as has been discussed on this blog previously, the effort to reform health care in the United States has stoked amazing incivility and premeditated outrage in town hall meetings across the country. Radically false and irresponsible attacks (i.e., death panels, nazi germany, government takeover, etc.) have been levied against those promoting reform.
Representative Wilson's outburst fits neatly into this tactic of incivility and the seemingly preferred course of misinformation, outrage and shouting, over reasoned debate and open discussion. This outrage, fanned by corporate interests, is particularly mystifying to me.

Perhaps the mystery can be explained by the priorities of those that either are truly outraged or those that simply feign outrage. Some that decry reforming health care because it will add to the federal deficit and that reform simply cannot be paid for are those same individuals that voted repeatedly to fund a war and cut taxes during the Bush administration. The Obama administration inherited unprecedented federal deficit levels based primarily on less revenue being collected (tax cuts) and increased spending (war costs in Iraq).

In an extraordinarily honest moment, the Wall Street Journal admitted as much:

"We've never fretted over budget deficits, at least if they finance tax cuts to promote growth or spending to win a war. But these deficit estimates are driven entirely by more domestic spending and already assume huge new tax increases." -- Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2009.

Government deficits are fine, according to the Wall Street Journal, if they fund the right economic priorities. Clearly, tax cuts and war spending are fine, deficits be damned. Just as clearly, domestic spending is not fine, particularly if it seeks to insure all Americans. Critics of health care reform that decry new spending are the same stewards that approved unprecedented federal government deficits so long as they funded tax cuts and a war. Deficit spending debate is about nothing, if not divergent priorities.

Second, when President George W. Bush delivered "State of the Union" addresses and speeches to joint sessions of Congress, long after his "weapons of mass destruction" justification for going to war in Iraq were debunked as false and pretextual, no member of Congress ever deigned to shout out "You Lie!" to a President that obviously had. What motivates a member of Congress to engage in the most reprehensible bout of incivility when a President is promoting health care reform (saving lives, insuring American citizens) that did not motivate a reprehensible bout of incivility when a President was promoting an immoral justification for going to war (ending lives, soldiers dying, etc.)? The seedy underbelly of Wilson's outburst and much of the motivation in town hall outrage is race and racism.

The first time a Congressperson ever shouts out "You Lie!" to a U.S. President speaking to Congress was when an African American president was addressing Congress and the outburst was by a white, conservative Congressman. In my mind, this is no coincidence. The outrage at town hall meetings and the cry from some in attendance linking President Obama to Nazi Germany and Hitler is no coincidence. Some Americans are having a lot of trouble coming to grips with a black President.

Finally, will the Insurance Company Regime, the very embodiment of Corporate America and the great American Corporation, allow true health care reform? The opposition has been breathtaking. The pressure applied by lobbyists to Congresspersons has likely been intense. A President seems to have steeled for the battle. The outcome is not clear, and to paraphrase Frederick Douglass, the entrenched will not give up power unless it is wrested from their icy grip.


  1. I wonder whether Rep. Wilson's spontaneous comment was really motivated by race? Isn't is just as plausible that he views illegal immigration as one of America's great problems and is trying to protect against insuring illegal immigrants with taxpayer dollars?

  2. To Anonymous . . .

    No, it is impplausible that Rep. Wilson's remarks were motivated out of a concern to protect taxpayer dollars from being spent on undocumented workers b/c the bill DOES NOT COVER UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS. So Rep. Wilson is either LYING or is ILLITERATE. You choose.

  3. anonymous, 9.11.09, 5:02 p.m.:

    i doubt that wilson's outburst can reliably be linked to his views about illegal immigration and saving taxpayer dollars. as anonymous 7:13 p.m. indicates, neither of the working bills provide health insurance to illegal immigrants. in fact, the one version of the bill that i have read expressly forbids such.

    it is much more likely that rep. wilson, in my view, is caught up in the hysteria being whipped up by those parties that oppose health care reform and is beside himself that the momentum seems to be running against him and those forces.

    in addition, i suspect that the comfort of his home district in south carolina makes him feel insulated from backlash for engaging in unprecedented incivility toward a sitting president. no, the motivation seems to be coming from much different places than policy disagreements over illegal immigrants and how the government spends taxpayer dollars.

    i have to wonder whether rep. wilson would have lost control as he did if the speaking president was not our first president of color.

    thanks for the comments.

  4. Former President Jimmy Carter hit the nail on the head: the incivility we see directed toward President Obama is racially motivated. Race is the 800lb Gorilla in the room that we don't want to talk about. We are walking down a dangerous path. I think Obama's post-racial world is evaporating right before his own eyes. When we discount race in this discussion we are dancing around the true issues.

  5. Interesting read, but I still have a few doubts. Certainly racism still exists and to a greater extent than many of us would hope, however, I think suggesting racism is the main force behind this "current" increase in incivility is a knee jerk conclusion to what I see as more of an ongoing problem. Certainly Obama was not the first president casually compared to Hitler. A quick google of "george w. bush hitler" pulls up over 2 million examples. The protests against Bush during his administration were also far from "civil," some protesters going as far to call for the former president to be killed. The fact that conservatives are strongly criticizing "irresponsible" spending now after ignoring it for 8 years is certainly not a new example of the strongly polarized public criticizing the other side for doing what their own party has or is doing as well. Senator Reid and Rep. Pete Stark are just two examples of representatives who called Bush a liar during his administration, Rep. Stark's accusation being on the House floor. I am by no means justifying the current political environment with this response. I only suggest that if the current "incivility" is more extreme than it was last year it is not by much. I find all of this troubling, but if it's racism now what was it last year, and what will it be with our next president, be s/he any race or gender?

  6. I would just like to clarify that although Rep. Stark did call President Bush a liar, it was not while the President was speaking. Rep. Wilson not only interrupted President Obama in front of both houses of Congress, but in front of the entire nation. It seems a little silly to be comparing these two moments as if they are one in the same. I'm not saying what Rep. Stark did was commendable, but honestly, interrupting the President of Untied States, that is utterly disrespectful and shameful.

  7. I concur 100% with Anonymous' response to my original post. Clearly, in my opinion, Rep. Wilson's behavior was more reprehensible than Rep. Stark's and I sincerely hope my post did not come off as justifying such behavior. I only draw the comparison to show that this problem with incivility is not a new one, and perhaps there is a cause for this overall incivility that goes beyond racism.

  8. And might I add that I truly appreciate that this blog at the very least seems to be a place where differing points of view can be shared without the incivility. It's very refreshing.

  9. President Bush DID lie. The justifications for going to war in Iraq were trumped up and proved false repeatedly. President Obama was referring to a health reform plan that currently has three different working drafts and numerous amendments still being debated. It is not possible that Obama "lied" about a health care bill that is still not in a final form. Representative Wilson knows this and was completely out of line, in ways that go significantly beyond what Bush faced during his failed Presidency.

  10. President Bush DID lie. The justifications for going to war in Iraq were trumped up and proved false repeatedly.

    More clueless drivel from the leftists that inhabit this site. Read this:

    "After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services, the intelligence service, received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," Putin said, according to RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency. "American President George Bush had an opportunity to personally thank the head of one of the Russian special services for this information, which he regarded as very important," the Russian president told an interviewer while in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.

    Washington Post

    Following the attack on Sept. 11, any president who ignored this intelligence would have been negligent in the extreme.

    The only liars involved in the debate belonged to the Democrat party.

  11. GERMAINE ANTHONY AUSTIN, NCCU LAWJanuary 24, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    This outburst was really disgraceful. It speaks against cooperation, civility, respect and the very element of working together that is and should be deeply rooted in the United States government. It is this type of outrage that disrupts the calm temperament of government bonding and raises tyranny in those who have unsettling emotions about one of the United States toughest issues, Health Care. I honestly agree with the wall street journal, “Government deficits are fine, according to the Wall Street Journal, if they fund the right economic priorities.” I am not objecting to funding the war, national security is very important but to what extent, the neglect of the health of Americans? How strong can we fight if our infrastructure within is falling apart.

    There is so much talk about taking our time on such an important issue, but it’s coming from our government heads that don’t have to worry about health care. Obama spoke about a Healthcare market system that will bring back competition in our health care system. It’s the same system our politicians use, so if it’s good enough for them why can’t it be good enough for us? Why are those in the working middle class left to endure the capitalistic healthcare competition by themselves? It’s not solely the fault of Health care companies. Their companies receive profits for being profitable so they would rather drop those who are sickly and require healthcare the most and retain those who are healthy, just so they can hold on to their money and receive more for doing so.

    Rewarding healthcare companies for being profitable must stop, they should be rewarded for making progress in healthcare, treating more people than others, significantly helping our poor communities and making customers happy. Universal health care is not impossible, it has it’s glitches but it is not impossible. Look at Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and places like Canada.

    No one want’ to go into a bigger deficit than we are in already but it’s funny how we talk about the deficit so much more when it involves protecting the health of Americans rather than strengthening a democratic process in another country. I like the idea of holding healthcare companies, businesses, the government, employers and individuals responsible for making sure everyone has adequate healthcare. Shouldn’t we, as Americans have the security of feeling safer in knowing that the person interacting with us every day is receiving the proper medical treatment they deserve? Oh, one more thing, I’m trying hard to fix my face and refrain from all this deficit talk. It’s estimated that we spend about 2.2 Trillion on healthcare each year but we waste around 1.2 Trillion. So let’s talk about that, why is this continuing to happen, I would seriously like to know.