Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where am I?

Sometimes I wonder what nation I'm living in.

I watched the president's speech last night during which a U.S. Congressman called the president a liar.

Jaws dropped all over the chamber. Jaws dropped in our living room.

My husband said, "I hope that's somebody's guest and not an elected official who did that."

Well, it was an elected official -- South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson -- who yelled, "You lie!" at the president when Obama said the health care reform would not cover people who are here illegally.

What is happening in America? People are disrupting public meetings, shouting down their elected officials when they try to speak and intimidating other citizens who try to ask questions. One man even showed up at a meeting at which the president was speaking with a gun strapped to his leg.

People are willing to believe Barack Obama wants to put old people to sleep, like old dogs who are in pain. They are willing to believe the U.S. Congress -- their elected representatives -- would approve "death panels." Some people who don't even know that the Medicare they are so happy with is a "government-run" program are happy to speak out against "government run health care." This includes veterans who rely on a "government-run health care system" called the VA.

Between Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA, well over half of Americans are already in a "government-run health care system." Not many of them call this socialism.

The president of the United States wants to talk with our schoolchildren about staying in school and working hard and some parents go into hysterics that the president will "indoctrinate" them and turn them into socialists. They carry signs saying to the president, "Stay away from our children."

Anybody remember what George Bush was doing when he was told about the 9/11 attacks? Right. He was in a classroom reading to children. And in fact, the Arlington, Texas school district -- which declined to show Obama's speech to its students because it would "disrupt the school day" -- is going to bus fifth grade students to Cowboys Stadium to hear a speech from former president George Bush and his wife, Laura.

What will the kids hear? Knowing Laura's passion for literacy, I suspect it will be a speech about staying in school and working hard. And I'll bet we won't have parents picketing the stadium with signs telling Bush to stay away from our children.

So why the uproar over Obama's every move?

Someone asked, "Have aliens landed and sucked out people's brains?"

Had major stupidity broken out in our nation? No, but some political leaders and many commentators in the media -- on both the left and the right, but particularly on the right -- have been cynically ratcheting up the volume and pumping fear and resentment out like fire hoses.

And because these people occupy positions of trust in the government and in the media, people who are already worried and scared tend to believe them.

Not that this absolves people of the responsibility to think for themselves. The problem is, after listening to some of these folks being interviewed, I do wonder if they ever even tried to think things through for themselves.

It's not elitist to expect grown people to take some responsibility for finding out the facts about a situation before they go ballistic over it. It's not elitist to expect adults to be able to act in a civil manner in public hearings. It's not elitist to expect adults to show common courtesy to elected officials -- respect the office even if you can't respect the officeholder.

I'm not saying we can't disagree and I'm not saying we can't poke fun at our leaders -- that's a proud American tradition and one I engage in with gusto at times. But there's a difference between making jokes about Obama's ears and calling him a liar while he's addressing a joint session of Congress. There's a difference between pointing out inconsistencies, inaccuracies and outright lies in a civil debate and in screaming curses at an elected official.

Listen, I am not a fan of George W. Bush. I disagreed with just about everything he ever did except maybe his common sense approach to immigration reform. But I never "hoped he would fail" as Rush Limbaugh has said he hopes Obama will fail.

I wrote about my disagreement with Bush on many occasions. But if he were to walk in a room where I was, I would stand up and show respect to him. He was my president.

And that's the thing. He was my president. So was Bill Clinton. So was the first President Bush. So was Carter and Reagan and all the others all the way back to the late 40s when I was born. Democrat or Republican, they were my president.

Obama is my president. And he's the president of Rush Limbaugh and the hecklers too. Not that they seem to know that. They seem to know almost nothing about how our system of government works. They seem to think "civics" is a bunch of small Hondas and that "civility" is a a group of non-military people.

I suspect Joe Wilson, Rush Limbaugh and all those hecklers would assert that they "support our troops." But if I were one of the soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan watching all this, I'd wonder exactly what it is I'm fighting for.

Once we lose the ability to have civil discussion about our differences, our democracy is in grave danger. And that scares me.


PseudoPiskie said...

I wonder if it is possible to get back to reasonable discourse without getting rid of certain public media. Advertisers probably have a great amount of control but they also benefit from the spectacle. They can buy the politicians and the people who support the ones they like. Not a good system.

corstarr said...

Well-spoken. I agree. I wonder how civil discourse can come back to our country; I am depressed by the present climate.

Fr Craig said...

PP is right - that craziness is huge for journalists. I do think the political fringe is hanging themselves on their own rope of extremism. In my heart I don't think America is that stupid or that mean. But remember, the hard right has been spending years and milions of dollars to indoctrinate - college campuses, stealth political ads... I think it really began with Nixon who went after the South on 'moral issues' in order to win over the democrats. Playing on fear - and the less well educated are very susceptible to fear... The teabaggers were up here in Scranton yesterday - only about 500 people showed up but their signs are scary. Still CNN had a media bus following their 'tour.'

Pat Klemme said...

I fear the apparently well-educated among us who follow Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other outrageous commentators. It's as if they cannot distinguish facts from opinions.

I am reminded of a line in "For the Bible Tells Me So" delivered gently but pointedly: There is nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of the Bible (political issues) as long as you are in the fifth grade.

I have friends and neighbors with advanced degrees falling hook, line, and sinker for Fox Schlock. Heaven help us all. Please!

episcogal said...

I completely agree that the President of the United States, whomever he or she may be, is the President of all of us and deserves our respect.

So - A sincere question here from someone who is bothered by self-righteousness on either side of the political spectrum. Is Joe Wilson's yelling at the President (which I agree was shameful) different from Democrats booing President Bush during the 2005 State of the Union speech?

On a related note, how did those of you who object to Wilson's behavior feel about the many people on the Mall who booed Bush at Obama's inauguration?

It cuts both ways. We all have to be civil. I try to look at all sides and all points of view, but I have an awfully hard time listening to the likes of Keith Olbermann when he refers - during prime time - those with whom he disagrees as "clusterfox."

Isn't it really disingenuous to act as if one side or the other of the political spectrum has a lock on civility?

Katie Sherrod said...

Yes, some Democrats booed Bush in 2005, but then, some Republicans heckled Clinton in 1993. See the link above for the reports on this.

And no, such behavior is not acceptable. But calling the president a liar goes beyond expressing audible disagreement -- as Democrats did with Bush in 2005 and Republicans did with Clinton in 1993.


Brilliant, my dear. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Two Auntees said...

Well said. Thank you.