Tonight when Joe Wilson, Representative from South Carolina, rudely maligned the President in a stunning breach of public etiquette – shouting “You lie!” while Mr. Obama spoke to the nation – two truths became clear to me:
• First, the antagonism of partisan politics has reached a new low. When an elected public official forgets his highest sworn commitment and falls into the ugly, mob mentality of hate-radio that has become the rule rather than the exception, we have a problem. Once, such activity took place after a pay-off happened, but now the hacks are the elected officials who used to pay others to heckle, denigrate and destroy public discourse. No more illusions, yes?
• Second, those who oppose such incivility should be shocked and call Wilson to accountability. Thankfully, Mitch McConnell and John McCain have done just that and late this evening a very chagrined Wilson phoned the White House with an apology. But it is time for ordinary people to challenge this rudeness and demand better in public and in private, too.
And while I'm on a rant, two other thoughts come to mind:
• The late Malcolm X once spoke of the “chickens coming home to roost” in reference to the violence America had fostered throughout the Third World coming back to haunt us in the assassination of John Kennedy. It was a crude but all too true observation – one that certainly applies to the phobic right wing of contemporary America. Since stealing the election of 2000 – and employing the Tom Delay goon squads and Limbaugh bullies – the crazed wing of the Republican party has gone way beyond “swift boating” their opponents: they now bring loaded weapons to demonstrations, shout lies and spend millions of dollar fomenting race hatred. That one of them let his mask slip tonight should not surprise any of us because it was never a matter of if… only when.
• And let us not forget that much of the venom and fear is being generated in the American South who still teach – and believe – that the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War happened exactly as it was written in Gone with the Wind! This deep and uncritical racism is just below the surface – and has been nurtured and encouraged by hate mongers for generations – and now it is breaking through the façade of civility in unexpected places like the Senate chambers of the US government.
I rarely go over the top in my outrage – there are already too many unstable souls clogging up the airwaves – but tonight’s gaffe deserves to be exposed for the ugly, racist behavior it is: it would NEVER have been tolerated if a white man had been speaking. How did brother Gil Scott Heron put it so long ago in what is arguably the BEST rap tune ever?
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