THE BLOG
11/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Did Joe Wilson Cross the Line Between Civil Disobedience and Incivility?

Over a week ago, Joe Wilson, the Congressman from South Carolina, hurled the heckle heard around the world -- and we're still talking about it. Post-outburst, he stands by calling the President a liar and believes that the health care bill would be wrong for the American people because of provisions that could allow undocumented immigrants to receive health care benefits.

Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Civil Disobedience," advocated that people should not allow the government to make us agents of injustice and that we have a duty to follow our conscience. Throughout history, we have admired courageous leaders such as Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King for employing the tenants of civil disobedience to eradicate government-sponsored discrimination. Is it possible that calling the President a liar was no different than a march through Selma or a lunch counter sit-in? Is it possible that Joe Wilson was engaged in civil disobedience?

I would say no. Joe Wilson was not engaged in civil disobedience but incivility. His conduct was rude and egocentric. Sit-ins and marches have something in common: they advanced a cause and not a person. If you really believe that Joe Wilson acted in the best interest of the American people by heckling the President, then I challenge you to show me what he has done in the last two weeks to build a better and stronger health care bill.

Just as I thought I was getting too old to watch the MTV Music Awards, the Kanye West and Taylor Swift debacle reminded me that personal conviction is not an excuse for incivility. Mr. West told Jay Leno in an interview that he realized that his rude antics had consequences when he recognized that he had hurt Ms. Swift. His belief that Beyonce had a better video did not give him the right to obscure Ms. Swift's feelings. People hurt. As a result, he apologized -- and he meant it.

Wilson's heckle was a clear act of disrespect for the office of the President and the President. Disagreement is healthy and should always be encouraged, however, ad hominem attacks are savage and have the potential to hurt -- people, processes, and civilizations.

For this reason, Wilson should deliver a proper apology and continue his fight against the health care bill that would make Thoreau, Ghandi, and Dr. King proud. Until then, Kanye West would have exhibited more maturity than Wilson in the public apology arena.

It's a sad day when a rapper serves as a better role model for giving an apology than a US Congressman.