The Bigger Picture
Published on September 24th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I closed last week’s column by promising to discuss what it was that I saw and heard during President Obama’s most recent nationally televised address to the Congress and America, which made me feel ashamed that I was a member of the Republican Party.
While I thought Representative Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” remonstration was both uncalled for and disrespectful, I have also seen and heard much worse from politicians in the Dáil. But US politicians never interrupt a US President while he is making a speech because a substantial majority of the American public looks askance at such disrespectful behaviour. Frankly, I was more embarrassed for old Joe Wilson making a fool of himself on national TV than I was for myself as a Republican or for President Obama.
It didn’t take long for Representative Wilson to realize what a huge mistake he made by calling the President a liar either. Wilson’s outburst was immediately greeted by “oohs” from the audience, a withering glance from Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, disapproving looks from many of his equally stunned Republican Party colleagues and boos from many Democrats. And when the TV cameras cut to a shot of Joe, he appeared to be very aware that he had really “stepped in it” because he avoided looking at any of his colleagues and instead stared intently at his Blackberry.
He beat a hasty retreat from the House chamber as soon as the speech ended and quickly called President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel to apologize for his conduct. His website’s server also crashed shortly after the speech ended because it was inundated with angry complaints from American voters. Wilson’s office released a written apology soon afterwards that read; “This evening I let my emotions get the best of me. While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”
. No, after some considerable reflection, my shame stems from something much more subtle than Joe Wilson’s unseemly accusation. Joe’s behavior was only the most flagrant sign of disrespect that I witnessed that night. But the audience also included other Republicans like Jeb Hensarling and Eric Cantor who have national and or Presidential aspirations.
What I also noticed, but many other people watching didn’t, was that following Joe Wilson’s outburst during the middle section of President Obama’s speech, other, as yet unidentified Republicans, also yelled at the President near the end of his speech. This occurred during the part of the President’s speech where he disputed the erroneous assertions made by some Republican opponents about his healthcare reform legislation.
When President Obama disputed the patently false notion that Sarah Palin, among others, is peddling; that his healthcare reforms would lead to “panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens,” a Republican shouted “Shame!” Then, when the president said, “Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical”, another Republican yelled, “Read the bill!” And when President Obama tried to rebut the charge that his reforms represented a government takeover of health care, another Republican responded by screaming “It’s true!” Joe’s outburst got all the media attention, but it was certainly not the only such outburst that night.
But what I found most disturbing was the behavior of those Republicans who are being touted for greater national exposure and higher political office in the future. While none of them yelled at the President while he was speaking, in their own way they were just as disrespectful as their colleague, Joe Wilson was. Most disconcerting to me was the fact that one of them was my own Congressman, Jeb Hensarling, a man I not only voted for in this and previous elections, but a man I also contributed money to. “Shame!”
When President Obama was trying to allay the fears of those Americans who have private health insurance by telling them “nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have,” the TV cameras cut to a shot of the Republicans in the audience and there sat Jeb Hensarling shaking his head in mocking disbelief. Hensarling is not only one of the top Republican leaders in Washington; he is also the odds on choice to win the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison so she can run for Governor of Texas.
The TV cameras also cut away several times during the President’s address to show the reactions of House minority leader John Boehner and House minority whip, Eric Cantor. Boehner always looked disgusted, which was no surprise, while Cantor was always shown playing with his Blackberry. But when this subtle yet obvious show of disrespect was brought to his attention, Cantor lamely claimed “he was reading excerpts of Obama's speech on the BlackBerry and taking notes as he did so.” Yeah, right!
I’m sorry, but I’m the type of person who believes that if you want me to listen to what you have to say, then even if we disagree, you owe me the same respect. Now ladies, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I don’t know any men who can listen to what you are saying while they are watching TV, playing video games or typing on their Blackberry. Do you?
Effective political leaders know that politics is the art of compromise and that compromises cannot be forged if you won’t listen or show respect for your opponents’ positions. But last Wednesday, my party’s two brightest rising stars in Washington showed they had no respect for the opinions of our nation’s President. So because my party’s current leaders are focused on harnessing public anger to win election instead of addressing America’s problems, they have also shown that they are incapable of running our country. And that’s a very shameful thing for a life long Republican to have to admit!
Next week I’ll discuss the health of healthcare in America.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in International Relations and lectures on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU.