Last night, we saw the definition of true centrist leadership. President Obama used the power of his office, and the perfect forum of the halls of legislative power, both to make his case to the American people, and to prove to voters that the adults were still in charge of government.
Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina probably did not start the evening with the intent of becoming the poster child for the Reactionary Right, but between his outburst of "You lie!" and the signs that a couple of childish congressmen were sporting, you quickly came to understand why the Founding Fathers established a Senate to go with the Congress. The patrician Senate was created in part to have a deliberative body that would mellow the reactive and, in their day, less educated public representatives holding office in the House.
Even in this day and age, there is an ignorant rabble that apparently cannot grasp the protocols of our government. Even though he apologized, Wilson developed a case of political cancer last night. Contributions to his opposition swelled, although, as we saw with Michelle Bachmann, even those with chronic political hoof-in-mouth disease can survive and thrive with their voters. What he did has no precedent, save for last night, in the annals of the United States Congress during a joint session, with the President of the United States speaking.
GOP leader Boehner should also be making a public apology today to President Obama and speaker Pelosi for the conduct of his members during the speech last night. It is bad enough having to watch Boehner's slimy, dyspeptic mug trying to figure out how to use the hall's cameras to his political advantage through any of his six postures of disapproval and insufferability.
This we expect from the party in opposition. What we do not expect, and we should not tolerate, is his Fox-fed whack jobs confusing their time dissing the president on the stump with the decorum that their office requires in a joint session of the Congress.
What is inexcusable is the continued attempt by the Right to dis Obama and belittle the office of the President of the United States.
Even when Dopey, King George II of Texas, was in office, we did not have members of the Democratic Party sitting there shouting "Illiterate" when he was mangling the words on his teleprompter, or "You lie" when it was clear that he indeed had lied about the reason for committing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq.
Not that Democratic members of Congress were not sorely tempted to do so.
I was taken by much of the intended and unintended pageantry of the rest of the evening. Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton both went to "Pay Attention to Me," a chic Washington boutique for women of power. Apparently "I'm Over Here Red" is this fall's television suit of choice.
Joe Biden waited patiently for someone with the dissolving liquid to get the super glue off of his lips. He either showed remarkable restraint after the "You Lie" barb, which sent Nancy Pelosi's head spinning, or after years of feeling the Chill of Evil coming from the chair when Dick Cheney occupied it, it could just be my perception.
The camera caught Sen. Dianne Fienstein (D-Calif.) looking like she had stopped by the Haight in San Francisco before heading for the Hill. The pool cams of course did the obligatory emotional moment with the Kennedy family when Obama read portions of the letter from Ted Kennedy to the joint session. More interesting though, was who they singled out for their cameos. No Barney Frank looking righteously imperious. No Max Baucus, jostling uncomfortably on the pile of insurance money that holds down his seat.
To his credit, Obama did what he always does, steer the steady course of centrism, telling both fractious ends of the political spectrum that with 80% in agreement, a bill was not going down the tubes because of politically passionate principles on either side of the aisle.
He smiled and showed grace when Wilson called him a liar to the world on the illegal alien portion of the proposed legislation, which, by the way, does say that aliens can't get insurance under any public insurance facility.
Obama recovered what he was so successful at doing during the campaign: Looking sane and reasonable, while the hysterical people around him looked well, hysterical.
Wilson called him to apologize last night after being buried in phone calls, emails and tweets of scorn. Perhaps he should seek asylum at the British Embassy. I hear that the Labour Party needs some vocal back-benchers for the verbal sparring of Parliament. He would be well-suited to that hall.
The GOP, if they want to win the argument, and ostensibly, power, back from the Dems are going to have to figure out how to speak again to the educated, sane people in the majority of this country, and quit pandering to the cheap votes of the illiterati and the single-issue zealots. Sounding like the Conservative Party in Parliament is not how you make your case that you are the party of ideas, or even that you have a shred of credibility.
Now Obama should probably buy Wilson a beer. Nobody made his point better about the need for sanity and reason in the process than the insane Joe Wilson.
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