Joe Wilson and the 9/12 March: The Week That Decency Died?

11/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the age of expansive punditry, we tend to over-analyze events as they happen. Everything is historic, everything is a game-changer, and our rhetoric reflects that.

The truth is, none of us can say for sure how something will figure into American history because none of us can predict the future. So two events that occurred in the last few days could either read as speed bumps or roadblocks in our history books. They are Joe Wilson interrupting a presidential address before a joint session of Congress and the '9/12 March on Washington.'

All Americans should mourn on 9/11. In the New York area, TV stations still broadcast the memorial reciting the names of those who died. It's a reminder of the solemnity, the togetherness and the pride we feel in our country, and the heroism of that dark day.

This is why these 9/12 protests are so repugnant and disrespectful. There's no other way to describe them. They are re-appropriating a national tragedy not to bring Americans together, but to divide. One of the organizers traced the event's roots back to the tea parties of February, which were not so much in opposition to what President Obama was doing as much as they were in opposition to President Obama winning. But in the months and protests since, the media and others in government have lost sight of that. The subsequent protests -- against taxes on April 15, against health care reform in August -- have never been about the policies; these events would go on regardless. They are extensions of the 'sore loser' rallies, and they're one hundred percent partisan. That is why their attempts to wrap themselves in the tragedy of 9/11 is so wrong.

The only kind of 9/12 protest I'd like to see is one promoting the care for rescue workers now suffering from lung illnesses. Of the list that was read in New York yesterday, a new name was added this year: Leon Heyward, who helped evacuate disabled employees from one of the buildings and died last October of lymphoma.

But getting back to the point, take these partisan 9/12 protests and add them to Representative Joe Wilson's disrespect for the office of the President of the United States. Wilson, who was not only rude but factually incorrect in his outburst, refused to give an apology on the House floor even after his caucus leader pleaded with him to do so. It seems Wilson feels no need to show civility toward a person on the other side of the partisan divide. And sadly, there are more than enough people who feel he is justified. This sets an awful precedent.

Which leads to this week's place in American history. Will we one day look back upon this week -- one in which we observed the anniversary of terrorist attacks that united us -- as the week in which all decency left American politics?

Those shouting at the 9/12 March on Washington believe they are making history. They believe today is the day their partisan revolution begins, in which they run Democrats from Congress and the White House. If they fail, they will be no more memorable than those who rallied against the New Deal reforms. But if their shamelessness somehow succeeds, this week may very well be marked in history.

Fortunately, the fact that we cannot predict what will one day fill our history books is accompanied by this simple idea: we can always shape it.