Clouds of Hatred
When a bozo Republican congressman shouts “You lie!” at the president of the United States speaking to a joint session of Congress, he is trashing age-old rules of decorum requiring politicians who hate each other’s guts to politely address one another on the floor of Congress as “the distinguished gentleman from…”
When a president telling schoolchildren to work hard and listen to their teachers is attacked for spreading Socialist propaganda, school officials in Wisconsin and elsewhere are so terrorized by the irrational complaints they make listening to the president’s uplifting speech “optional.”
Even more frightening, in a country that has lost its most idealistic, charismatic leaders, white and black, to political assassination, extremists have begun showing up at presidential speeches around the country openly carrying assault rifles.
These gathering clouds of hatred have been building in just the few, short months since President Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African American elected to the presidency.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said that for a long time she was reluctant to believe race was the primary basis for “the shrieking lunacy of the summer—the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie Nazi…” But when she heard South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson shout at President Obama, she heard “an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!” She’s now convinced “some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.”
As someone who has participated in civil rights and anti-war rallies, I would never deny the right to Americans to stand up and disagree with the policies of their country or their president. We don’t have to go back very many months to a president who used the tragedy of 9/11 and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to justify going to war against a country that had no connection, resulting in the loss of more American lives than the attack of Sept. 11.
But while all of us are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.
The irony was congressional clown Wilson yelled “You lie!” at President Obama when the president was refuting one of the many lies Wilson’s party had circulated to try to kill health care reform by any sleazy means necessary.
Television enhanced the effectiveness of Obama’s health care speech by contrasting the president’s upbeat reform message with the reactions from the glowering cast of Grumpy Old Men on the Republican side of the chambers.
Obama praised Republicans by name and welcomed any who wanted to help solve the problems that all but the very wealthiest Americans have in receiving affordable health care.
Wilson may have been the most uncouth in his party, but he was by no means an exception. Republicans laughed derisively, held up cheesy signs, shook fistfuls of papers at the president and walked out.
Generosity of Spirit
The truly moving part of Obama’s speech came near the end when he quoted from a letter written by the late Edward Kennedy for delivery after his death.
Obama said Kennedy’s concern for health care for all Americans came in part from his personal experience of having two children stricken with cancer. Coming from a wealthy family, Kennedy was able to imagine how much worse it would be in the same situation without insurance or without means.
“That largeheartedness—that concern and regard for the plight of others—is not a partisan feeling,” Obama said. “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.”
It wasn’t a lie, exactly. But Obama’s rhetorical generosity toward Republicans was an example of the president’s own largeheartedness.
Sadly, it is only the Democrats now who are putting themselves in the shoes of the nearly 50 million people who are without health care in this country and the millions more who are forced into bankruptcy by catastrophic illness.
Rather than displaying character and bigheartedness, Republicans have consciously adopted tactics that are small-minded and mean-spirited.
The good news is Obama’s election showed that ugliness and anger are losing their effectiveness in American politics. The television visual during Obama’s speech clearly showed far more elected politicians standing and cheering compared to the minority of sour-faced Republicans on the side of the room where all the light appeared to be sucked out.
Republicans are using hatred and lies to denigrate the presidency itself in ways the presidency has never before been disrespected in our history.
It’s not just coincidence this is happening when, for the first time in history, the office is occupied by a black man.