11/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Joe Wilson's Outrageous Display of Incivility

When I heard the yell “You Lie!” during President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress the other night, I thought it might have been some rabid outsider who was let into the chamber by mistake.

I was wrong. It was an insider. Joe Wilson is a Republican member of Congress from South Carolina.

Those right wing conservatives who feared that their children would be adversely affected by listening to the President’s speech on education should have other concerns—they should prevent them from watching the Congress in action.

What does a child learn about respect for democracy, for the President of the United States, and plain good manners when she or he witnesses such an outrageous display of incivility as good old Joe displayed Wednesday night?

Like Michelle, who shook her head in disbelief, I was shaking mine.

Yes, I expect a certain level of rowdiness in the Congressional halls. They had a right to stand up or sit down, to applaud or not applaud, as most of them did during various parts of the speech.

But Joe was clearly out of control. Unlike school children and mature adults, he has not learned beans about anger management. The word respect is missing from his vocabulary.

He did belatedly apologize, and the President, to his credit, accepted it. I’m not sure I could have been that gracious.

What he should do is a stint of community service in a public school, teaching children to work hard, stay in school, and be polite to those who they disagree with.


Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

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