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Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

September 10, 2009

Thursdays are my “What’s so funny?” days.

What’s so funny about politicians fingering other politicians as liars?

Representative Joe Wilson broke the House rules last night during President Obama’s speech about health care to a joint session of Congress.  “You lie!” Wilson is quoted as having shouted at the President from the floor.  Heckling the president is a no-no in Congress.  You could see the startled look on Vice President Biden’s and Speaker Pelosi’s faces.  Who is this guy who heckled the president?

Joe Wilson is a neighbor of FCNL’s.  I recall that, in the fall of 2005, he was among the first Members of Congress to visit FCNL’s new green building.  In fact, he may have been the first.  He stopped by shortly after we moved into this first green building on Capitol Hill and said he lived in a row house just behind us. After watching this project for two years, he wondered if he could get a tour of a green building.  He introduced himself to me as “the guy who introduces those provisions to name buildings and places after his hero, President Ronald Reagan.”

I welcomed Joe Wilson to our office and gave him the full tour. He showed appreciation for what we had done.  He asked his staffer, who accompanied him, to write down that we had bamboo floors, instead of hardwood.  “Bamboo floors.  We can make that in South Carolina!” I heard him say with some enthusiasm.

How could this obviously decent man, Joe Wilson, shout at another obviously decent man, President Obama, that he lied.  Joe Wilson is a conservative and a Republican.  President Obama is a liberal and a Democrat.  Joe Wilson just disagrees with Barack Obama. What’s so funny?

In a speech on February 27, 1860, another Republican, Abraham Lincoln asked, “What is conservatism?  Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”  Joe Wilson, I think, wants to adhere to the old and tried.  Barack Obama has appealed for something new and untried (in most of the U.S.).  Wilson is a staunch defender of what is.  Obama is a strong advocate for what could be.  The status quo and progress are antagonists.

Of course, Joe Wilson’s outburst came at the moment Barack Obama mentioned immigrants, a hot button word for many conservatives and a wedge issue for the 2010 elections, no doubt.  Isn’t it funny that descendants of immigrants can be so anti-immigrant?  They will quickly say they don’t oppose immigrants; they just oppose “illegal” immigrants, but most of us are here at the expense of Native Americans.  We have no moral standing by having defined ourselves as “legal.”

Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) remarked that “Liars ought to have good memories.”  That would be so that they can always remember what lie they told and appear to be consistent with their next remarks.  However, I think Sidney should also have observed that ‘those who accuse others of lying should have good memories.’  In shouting “You lie!” at President Obama, Wilson sets himself up as a defender of truth.  If Representative Joe Wilson had taken time to remember, he would recall that, when President Bush explained to Congress his reasons for going to war in Iraq, he did not tell the truth or, at least, what he said did not fit with the facts.  Joe Wilson stood and applauded President Bush.  He didn’t yell out “You lie!”  Nor did any Democrat, as I recall.  That would have been a time to shout at a president from the floor of Congress.  It’s not so funny that no one did. — JV

  1. Karen permalink
    September 11, 2009 1:47 pm

    When I heard Republicans whining about Joe Wilson being criticized for his (in my opinion) uncivilized outburst during Obama’s speech, I immediately thought of the eight years we just passed through where Bush actually DID stand up in front of us all and LIE repeatedly. In all those instances, the most uncivil behavior that occurred was silence from the members of Congress, and maybe some heckling from citizens that had snuck into the Chamber. The Congresspeople were courteous–not RUDE and WRONG.

    It’s very hard to hope that the Congress will be able to pull together to work out real reform when there is such hostility between the two sides. I just wish that the members of the House and Senate would sit down and talk to even a fraction of the people that can’t get coverage or have lost it because they got sick, instead of thinking up excuses to keep voting for legislation to prop up the criminally greedy health insurance system that we currently have.

    This nation has lost so much of the rest of the world’s respect through our war-making in Iraq and Afghanistan that it makes resolving our healthcare crisis even MORE important. Not only is it the right thing to do because no one in the richest country on the planet should ever have to go without proper healthcare, but taking care of our people would be ONE way that we could earn back some respect from the rest of the world.

    Acting like a thug during a joint session of Congress definitely won’t, though.

  2. Karen Reixach permalink
    September 15, 2009 6:41 pm

    In all the uproar about the violation of decorum, I haven’t heard anyone address the substance. Do the bills, or Obama’s proposals, contain anything that would open the door to funding health care for immigrants who are undocumented? Is Wilson concerned that emergency care will be provided to all, thereby offering back door funding? Is there any substance at all to what seemed at the time like a stunt?

    My questions are not supportive of Wilson’s opposition to health care for undocumented immigrants. I think health care is a moral issue, and that health care for all is imperative. Simply from a public health viewpoint, health care for these vulnerable folks make sense.

    I mourn the distortions that make it difficult for our country to move forward on health care (not just health insurance) reform.

    Karen from NY

  3. Mark Laoner permalink
    September 15, 2009 8:46 pm

    I’m sorry, but I can’t think of a much more useless thing for a Congressperson to do than go about naming buildings after a President whose goal was the undoing of the New Deal and whose Administration sold arms to the Iranians in an effort to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. Joe Wilson’s outburst may have brought him notoriety, but it’s not the first inappropriate cause he’s championed.

  4. richard andrews permalink
    September 15, 2009 11:57 pm

    Unfortunately there is plenty of lying, or at least gross misrepresentations, happening from all corners and political perspectives on the health care issue. I can’t bring myself to label the proposals being considered as “reform”….but instead see all but the HR 676 as nothing more than another bail out, this time to the health insurance monopolists and leeches on the public wallets. I see the plan for compulsory insurance as nothing but a boon to the excesses of the insurance companies. The insurance companies are only going to get bigger and fatter as their insured premium payer ranks swell by tens of millions more people, and they inevitably will raise their premiums because of mandatory coverage of all persons regardless of prior conditions, and legal requirements that denials of coverage of bills are prohibited. Costs will not be reduced to ratepayers and taxpayers…they will grow. This looks a lot like the bailout and hand-outs to the financial industry we have just experienced. …rewarding bad behaviour with more and more imaginary money, funding bigger bonuses rather than actually reforming a greedy broken system that cannot self regulate.

    So who’s lying? All sides are…except a few shining lights that can’t seem to break into the visible spectrum like Conyers and Kucinich. They speak the truths but are ignored and shunned. Was Repr. Wilson right in calling the Pres. a liar. Unfortunately yes, but so is he and many, if not most of the other 400 plus in the House and most of the Senate. Many may not know they are lying, or are simply too dim to realize it, or simply don’t have the courage to face truth.

    Congress declares that their health care bills must be “revenue neutral” and Obama declares that it cannot add a single dime to the national debt. So just when did this become the rule on the swamps of the Potomac? I’ve watched for years spending on the antithesis of health care go on and on and on in the form of funding the killing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (and many places that don’t make the news) without one utterance of needing to be revenue neutral. What about revenue neutral policy when the banksters of Wall Street robbed us twice, once with their Las Vegas schemes of creating wealth out of thin air with “derivatives”, and again when Congress and the Fed handed them hundreds of billions in bailouts, making banks too big to fail even bigger, TARPs, and trillions in imaginary money making by the FED. All of these government actions have robbed from the American public and from the world’s people massively. But has any real reform happened to prevent the banksters from continuing to ream the world for their own short term gains? No. Only a few hands were slapped, but no new or effective regulations have been instituted….only rewards to those who caused the problems.

    If we want real reform, the only way it can ever happen is to (1) prohibit any and all funding to politicians by corporations, labor unions, and all other special interest groups which control their purchased Congress and (2) lock the revolving doors from corporations into high government executive branch seats. Either that or do what our forefathers did in the founding of this nation, severe the ties with the corrupt state and start afresh.

  5. Najla permalink
    September 16, 2009 1:20 am

    Thank you Joe for speaking my mind. You give me hope, a rare but badly needed commodity these days. May our Congress and Senate have the courage to speak up and do what’s best for our nation! May they all follow Senator Carl Levin’s example in questioning our involvement in Afghanistan!

  6. Judith McCaffrey permalink
    September 16, 2009 8:52 am

    Your point is well taken. Congress people who sat on their hands when the administration lied during the Bush era are living in glass houses with no right to throw stones. Equally, if not more disturbing, is the lack of self control apparent here. Wilson would have scored more points if he had researched his opposition to the remarks about immigrants and health care, organized his data, and made a coherent argument to the people (and in this electronic age there are endless ways to do this) to support his views. Even I might have listened to him. Displays of anger that lack understanding of the issues are just that: displays of illogical anger. We have had enough of screaming invective and extremists stalking public meetings with weapons. It is time to bring intelligence, rational thinking and, yes, compassion to the debate around the basic right of health care for all.

  7. Bob Stewart permalink
    September 16, 2009 10:22 am

    Jimmy Carter has supplied the true definition of the irrational right wing opposition to Obama as an individual. This nation still possesses a significant portion of its population that is psychologically unable to accept the fact that a black man now presides in the Oval Office. I never voted for Carter but admire his guts for speaking the ugly truths. For the record I also share his postion that Israel has practiced Apartheid against the Palestinins in the occupied West Bank. I now applaud Obama’s efforts through George Mitchell to reopen this sixty year old problem.

  8. Inez Steigerwald permalink
    September 25, 2009 2:29 pm


    Sometimes I forget about this blog, what with all the reminders coming at me to update Of Peace and Politics. Today I thought I’d skim through a few posts to see what you all have to say. I have to say, upsetting though the content is, this is a beautifully written post. Thanks for speaking out.



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