During the speech of the President last night, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out "You lie!"when President Obama said none of the health care programs he's proposing would "apply to illegal immigrants".
The President calmly replied "That's not true."
The health care debates have been heated and the lack of civility in the town hall meetings has been appalling. William Peace wrote about a woman in a wheelchair at a town hall meeting who was jeered by others.
As you can see in the video, the jeering was so bad that Marianne Hoynes could barely speak over it or be heard. As she talked about living with a disability, the cost of her medication and trying to survive in the system as it is, the shouting continued. As she spoke about basic human rights, and asked others to listen to the voice of the disabled, the level of disrespect shown by those at the meeting spoke more to not only their refusal to listen, but to their refusal to look for any solutions to those who are suffering. Her views were unwelcome.
There are times we all have to agree to disagree, but when we've reached a point where some citizens act to silence others who they perceive as having fewer rights, I see that as the beginning of the end of civil discourse and I fear that more than anything else. Without the ability to have heated debates in which all sides of the issue are heard, we cannot call ourselves a democracy.
Last night confirmed my belief that this is where the health care debate is going. It's become more about power and shouting down those who are vulnerable - or those who speak for them -than about its substance. One liners are bandied about to cut off any discussion or games of "gotcha" are played. Fear is rampant due to misinformation and exaggerations.
Those who read history know that this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that our country faces a controversial issue. It is also not the first time that shouting has happened in Congress. But it is the nature of what is being said - the accusation of lying to the leader we elected- and the timing of it -during a nationally televised speech- that requires scrutiny.
This is about a lack of respect for our president and the office he holds, but it goes further than that. It's about pressing one's agenda, or one's party's agenda, at any cost.
We as Americans need to send a message to our own elected officials that it is not only counterproductive to engage in such behavior, but unacceptable. Those who represent us, no matter what their party affiliation, must begin to open their minds to solutions when so many of our citizens who are sick and face impossible financial burdens are crying out for help. Ignoring these voices, heckling them, jeering them or shouting them down or those who speak on behalf of them won't make the problem go away. Nor does it absolve us of our moral responsibilities to each other as fellow citizens.
It is time to engage in civil discourse.