Thursday, September 17, 2009

"You have offended my honor, Sir"

By now, you’ve all heard about the ruckus caused by Joe Wilson (whose given name is Addison Graves Wilson), the congressman from South Carolina who called the President of the United States a liar to his face in public. The public place was the United States Congress which eventually included the entire world via television and the Internet.

No one is perfect and people can make major mistakes, like insulting someone. The usual procedure in a civilized society is to own up to the mistake and make a heartfelt apology. This is exactly what Joe Wilson did when he admited his behavior was wrong. Soon after the President’s speech the White House received a call from Joe. He apologized for his "inappropriate and regrettable" comments. Administration officials who took the call expressed appreciation for the apology and commented that this country needs "a civil discussion" to which Joe Wilson agreed.

This is the way we are supposed to handle human peccadillos. That exchange should have been the end of the matter — a regrettable incident put on the shelf and forgotten. Just the opposite has happened. Unfortunately, the apology was not the end of the story but the introduction to a larger story.

Our country once again displayed its amazing propensity for polarization. On one side the majority of people think Joe Wilson had crossed the line. His behavior was unacceptable and a poor model for this country's children. Others believe that Joe Wilson did the right thing. After all, freedom of speech is what makes this country great. In fact, Joe has become a folk hero to some people in this country for his courage in speaking out and representing the thoughts and beliefs of people who are afraid. Not only has he become a hero to some but they have used their pocketbooks to affirm their support. Soon after calling the President a liar, Joe received over one million dollars for his upcoming election.

Maureen Down, columnist for the New York Times, reported that supporters began wearing T-shirts and waving signs with brave slogans such as "Stand with Joe," "Joe 2012," and "Joe was right." What a lovely democratic display of free speech. Other more powerful people joined the applause. A congresswoman from Minnesota publicly declared, "Thank God for Joe Wilson." The executive of the American Liberty Alliance was thankful that finally someone had become brave enough to openly display "a defiant attitude."

These displays of bravado emboldened others to voice their well thought out opinions at an anti-Obama rally in Washington recently. Placards emphasizing civil discussions made such statements as "Trade Obama back to Kenya;" "We came unarmed (this time)" and "Bury Obama with Kennedy." At least we don’t need to be concerned that all this rancor might be tinged with racism.

Predictably, popular Obama-haters quickly became soloists in the choir. Rush Limbaugh threw more fuel on the flames of national loathing and bitterness when he said, "Every sentence out of the president’s mouth is a lie and what’s he [meaning Joe Wilson] supposed to do?" So now we know what the civil discussion looks like that Joe Wilson agreed was needed for our nation.

A disciple of Michelle Malkin’s blog threw his mouth into this civil discussion when he left a post reading, "I’d far rather be in Joe’s company than the presence of gutter-mouth Obama and his thugs." At least it’s nice to finally understand what the new definition of civil discourse means.

It seems this groundswell of support for Joe has given him a slight springiness to his step. He talked with reporters a few days after his heroic behavior and when he was done talking with them, he happily signed his autograph on a picture of his heroic outburst. Some of Joe's Congressional colleagues suggested that he also needs to apologize to them because he not only insulted POTUS but denigrated the dignity and decorum of the Congressional chambers.

Well, this was to much for someone who now believed in his heroic status. Here is what Joe said when asked on Fox news if he would apologize to his colleagues. "I apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president and the vice president. I’m not apologizing again." Sounds like a hero to me.

Actually, Joe Wilson is carrying on a time-honored tradition in South Carolina politics. For a century and a half, lawmakers from South Carolina have displayed their own version of civil discussion. Historian Lewis L. Gould has written countless books including The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate. He says that Congress has seen these special civil gifts over the years from South Carolina members of this exclusive club in the form of "beatings, fistfights and wrestling matches."

This section of the country began its special contribution to Congressional decorum in 1856. Preston Brooks was a Democratic congressman from South Carolina who took umbrage at a speech made by a colleague, Senator Charles Sumner. Brooks went to the Senate chamber in what onlookers must have thought would be a verbal confrontation. Instead Brooks beat the living daylights of Sumner. Sumner tried to hide under a desk. Brooks attacked Sumner so violently that he ripped the bolted desk from the floor. He continued the attack with his stout wooden cane until Sumner, blinded by his own blood, staggered up the aisle, then collapsed and fell into unconsciousness. Did this stop Brooks? Nope. He continued beating Sumner until he busted his cane. Only then did he stop and walk out of the chamber.

Gould goes on to list other incidents by congressmen from South Carolina. In 1902 a Senator by the nickname of Pitchfork Ben Tillman decided to move debate to another level. He wanted to teach another senator a lesson in civility so he began a brawl by jumping over four chairs and starting a fistfight. In 1964, favorite son, Strom Thurmond initiated a shoving match which quickly turned into a wrestling match that lasted a full ten minutes. More civil discussion.

Those of us who have been parents of young children have dealt with trying to teach our children that violence is not the format for dealing with conflict. I can’t imagine how much harder this is now that our elected leaders, media people, and the rabid rank and file have decided that getting in someone’s face is now the accepted method for managing disagreements. "But Dad, Congressman Wilson called President Obama a liar and became a hero."

Parenting is going to get harder as long as attention and support is given to people in this country for being belligerent, lying, demonizing anyone who disagrees, and accepting uncritically everything they hear. We now have a large segment of our population that is governed and motivated by fear. It takes only a minute or two on the Internet to see and listen to a flag-waver who says, in all seriousness, "I’m so scared because our President is a Muslim and they are taking over our country." When I was growing up, Joe McCarthy (another fine example of an elected official) spread similar rumors and fears through the populace except it was the Communist devil that was spooking everyone.

In one of her columns, conservative writer Kathleen Parker reminded us that congressmen and other men of integrity in the nineteenth century had a specific, civil and honorable method for ending acrimony. In 1882, a gentleman by the name of Mr. John Goode insulted another gentleman, Mr. Bailey by calling him "a liar." Ahhh — such biting language. Ms. Parker then relates what a writer for the New York Times described as the ultimate solution for personal insults among men of honor — a duel. The writer declared that "Nothing but blood can wipe out this insult."

What a great idea. A method to settle disagreements once and for all. President Obama could approach Joe Wilson telling him he demanded satisfaction from Joe for being dishonored. The President would then signal this demand with a time-honored insulting gesture such as slapping Joe across the face with a glove.

Next, the President would pick his weapon and choose the field of honor. The only problem here is that dueling is illegal. Being a clever species, humans in the last hundred years have devised substitutes for dueling and it’s called sports. Can anyone deny that football or soccer are just duels without swords or bullets? Even a baseball thrown at a batter’s head is a form of a duel.

However, one of the more violent sports is basketball. Some commentators believe the NBA is more violent than other sports because the players are in continual contact. To make matters worse basketball players wear no padding or equipment to protect themselves. Some NBA coaches are convinced that basketball is as much of a contact sport as football.

After President Obama slaps Joe Wilson with a glove, he could declare the weapon of choice is a basketball and the field of honor would be the White House basketball court.

So let’s begin a new tradition. We could start it at the highest levels of our nation and use the Trickle Down Theory of Sport Economics to eventually move it to grade schools and kindergarten. It could be used to corral the craziness that has begun to grip our nation. Violence would be short-lived with the results being unequivocal.

The duel between the President and the Congressman would be a game of one-on-one basketball and could be televised nationally. Special uniforms would be designed for the participants with taxpayer’s money. On one side of the gym would be bleachers for the Obama haters while everyone else would be in the opposite bleachers. Naturally, all fans would be screened for other kinds of weapons.

Who would we have for referees? The Supreme Court, of course. All of these smart people would be given a written test on basketball rules and probably all of them would pass. Those who got a perfect score on the rules test would have to shoot free throws. The justice who hit three straight ones from the foul line would be eligible for the referee job. In case more than one justice mastered this heroic feat, they would keep shooting (not dueling) until the one with the most successive sinkers would win. Of course, the referee would not wear stripes but rather a distinguished jet black outfit.

We could hold tryouts for members of Congress to become cheerleaders. They could develop their own cheers that would represent their constituency. One side would have cheers like, "Kill him, he’s a liar." The other side might have a cheer along the lines of, "Money solves all social problems." This new political spectacle might even be bigger than world soccer. Las Vegas could contribute a significant percentage of gambling winnings to help ease the national deficit.

The loser of this faux duel would have to leave his job. Either Joe Biden would be president or South Carolina would be out a congressman (although Joe Wilson could keep all the money he made from being a hero). Does anyone know if Obama or Wilson have played basketball before?

Let the Game Begin.


Charles Davis said...

Not a bad idea Doc...not bad. The idea of representative single combat goes back at least to David v. Goliath. I remember watching a movie as a child where the outcome of a major war was settled by two chosen participants...sorry can't remember the name. Even the Star Trek series used the motif of single combat as a proxy for all out total global war. I wonder though if all the parties would agree to the outcome even if not in their favor. To my mind it seems some folks are still fighting the 'Civil' War. My heart sinks to think my countrymen and women think a duly elected President is worthy of insulting behavior to his/her face. What Joe Wilson did is not just insult Barack Obama (unfortnate but acceptable) he insulted the Office of The President of The United States of America(which is not acceptable). WHOMEVER is in that office is deserving of the respect of The Office, regardless of his/her party or politics. The President may be a putz (Millard Fillmore, Warren G Harding, Richard Nixon, GWB etc.) but a personal attack in the seat of our government is a breach of common courtesy to the Office of President. I was not a fan of GWB or his policies, but I would never have presumed to scream at him in the halls of Congress (or throw shoes at him) even after finding out he did in fact lie to us. Bill Clinton lied to us too...but it didn't cost several hundred thousand lives in the process, and no one stood in their faces and called them on it. Maybe Joe Wilson's outburst came 7 years too late. Civility, as you pointed out in a previous post, seems to be lost in these very troubling times. What appears to me to have taken its' place is ignorance and unfounded fear. Maybe it's wrong to blame Rep. Wilson...let me be civil and suggest he was merely...ignorant. Perhaps as suitable punishment he should be made to write 100 times 'I will not interrupt the Chief Executive while he is addresing me in The People's House.' In the final analysis, Joe Wilson is small potatoes in the political landscape of our nation. He was for a moment a squeeking wheel. We shall not hear of him again til the next election cycle. I guess the best thing we could do is follow the words of a well known Jewish teacher from 2000 years ago who suggested his god's greatest commandment was (and I paraphrase): " nice..."

Vivie said...

All Representative Wilson had to do was use some self-control and seek out the media for an interview with supporting documentation that Obama was in error. The disruption and rudeness are what Americans are famous for, I guess. Too bad we can't live up to our status as the leading nation of the world. If we don't, that status will not last much longer. I've heard a couple people on the cable news channels agree with Wilson. They said it was not in Obama's plan, but in an amendment (of which there are many). It's worth checking into, isn't it? Whether knowingly or not, our President shouldn't be lying to us, unless it is in the best interest of the many and life saving. Such as, giving our war strategies away on TV, not a good idea. Media today is on every move they make, so they have little to no room for error. I think we need to quit quibbling over some rude faux pas that has been forgiven. Find out the truth for yourself.