Surprised? Why would you be surprised?
A congressman shouts at the president. A Member of Congress shouts "You lie!" at the President of the United States -- right there in the halls of Congress, right there in the middle of a major presidential address -- and everyone claims to be stunned.
Everyone hasn't been paying attention.
The congressman in question was one Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, but it didn't have to be Joe Wilson. It could have been somebody else. And if it hadn't happened when it did, on Wednesday evening, it would have happened soon enough. It was waiting to happen.
The members were just back in town, after all, after their August recess. It's never easy to return to school rules -- jacket and tie and a civil tongue -- after weeks of summer vacation. Even congressmen need time to readjust.
Besides, once you've spent day after day among the constituents, hearing the president being called a Nazi, a commie, a socialist tool, a terrorist mole -- hey, after nonstop trash talk from the town-hallers and the tea-baggers and the cable cranks, calling Barack Obama a liar must have seemed almost quaint.
It couldn't have been easy, sitting there in silence as the president called Joe Wilson out -- not personally, but generically, Wilson and many of his GOP pals -- for their inconsistencies and their hypocrisies. For their deliberate distortions and their public-be-damned political calculations.
The president called him out, and promised to do it again, and as often as necessary. He was willing to listen to the "serious" people, the president said. He was willing to work with the "serious" people to try to fix the country's teetering health-care system -- but he wasn't about to waste any more time on the phonies and the fabricators.
It's the kind of attitude that might rub a congressman the wrong way, you know what I mean?
At least Joe Wilson wasn't packing.
As far as we know.
And hasn't that been yet another enlightened development in this latest season of indignation? It's become acceptable, somehow, to carry a firearm to the vicinity of a presidential event. To carry a gun, and to display it proudly. Just in case the angry chants and the angry signs aren't quite enough to get the message across.
What was once considered a threat, a provocation, an outrage -- now it's just another way of making a point. (Thanks for sharing.) And if a loaded gun is OK -- and there are people now who insist that it is, and still others who accept that it is -- well, what's wrong with a few loaded words? Even in the halls of Congress. Even in the middle of a presidential address.
Every time you think the currency of civic conversation simply can't be any further debased...
Rest assured, there's always someone ready to cheapen things a little more.
Congressman Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst. He didn't have much choice -- everyone, on both sides of the aisle, thought he'd gone over the line.
It'll be much easier the next time.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.