When Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled out that President Obama was a "liar" in the middle of Obama's nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, he became the poster child for the new Republican Party.
I definitely mean poster "child." Since President Obama took office, the language of the Republican Party has become more childish and irresponsible by the day.
President Obama's powerful speech to the nation last night could not have contrasted more sharply. He was the adult in the room, calling on Congress to take responsibility for our future -- for stepping up to solve the health care crisis that worsens every day, for making the changes necessary to allow America to live up to its own democratic values -- to acknowledge that no one should be denied the health care he needs because he can't afford it.
By contrast, the Republicans have careened into schoolyard name-calling; Obama the Nazi, Obama the "Joker" from Batman.
They have begun to act like a gang of juvenile delinquents, doing everything they can to frighten senior citizens -- attempting to convince them that health care reform would jeopardize their Medicare and that the Government would set up "death panels" with the power to pull the plug on Grandma, when both were patently untrue.
There has been a brazen, bullying quality to their rhetoric -- shouting down and intimidating opponents -- a willingness to break the rules and say anything that serves their purposes with a complete disregard for consistency or intellectual honesty. Take their "defense" of Medicare: Remember that the Republicans opposed Medicare from its inception. They said that Medicare would lead to "socialism" the same way they claim that health insurance reform and a public option will lead to "socialism" today. As recently as yesterday some Republicans proposed eliminating Medicare and replacing it with a privatized "voucher" system. Yet they have the gall to pretend to defend it against the Democrats who created it.
And then there has been the irresponsibility of encouraging -- and legitimating -- gun-toting, hate-filled rhetoric by the fringiest of the right wing. The Republican leadership has failed to censure people like the pastor in Arizona who says he prays the President will die. And it has encouraged delusional conspiracy theorists who believe -- contrary to all evidence -- that Obama was not born in the United States.
As children grow up, one of the measures of increasing maturity is their willingness to begin focusing on the long term -- on saving for the future -- on getting a good education -- on the long-term welfare of their family. Instead of throwing a tantrum because they want an ice cream cone now, they start savings their nickels and dimes for the bicycle they want to save up to buy in the future.
But you won't find the Republicans dealing with the affects of global warming on the next generation, or reforming the health care system so it won't devour our economy in the future, or regulating investment markets to prevent reckless investors from wrecking the economy in the years ahead. No, instead of the needs of the next generation, the Republicans want to squander our treasure on short-term tax cuts for millionaires, and short-term profits for large corporations.
Republicans used to have a reputation of staid "conservatism" like they were your stingy old rock-ribbed grandfather. Today's Republican leaders behave like a bunch of teenagers who got their inheritance too early and can't find enough ways to indulge their short-term desire for "more." They no longer reflect the values of middle class families. They reflect the values of reckless, "go go" Wall Street speculators who think anyone who isn't rich like them is a "chump" and that the purpose of our society is to let them indulge their own self-centered, jet-set fantasies.
Most childish has been their practical refusal to admit that they lost the election and that Barack Obama is actually the President of the United States. Their recent attack on the President's speech to schoolchildren that aimed to inspire them to work hard and stay in school may be the clearest example. Whether the Right likes it or not, Barack Obama is the leader of our nation. Questioning the appropriateness of his addressing the nation's children with an uplifting message is the political equivalent of a child closing his eyes, holding his ears and humming so he doesn't have to acknowledge that it's time to go to bed. Sorry, Barack Obama won the election, temper tantrums won't change it.
Last night Joe Wilson etched his political legacy into the wall of American history. He will forever be the poster "child" that symbolizes the new Republican Party.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.