Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes

There's fever in the funkhouse now because Representative Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) called out "You lie!" during President Obama's address on health care. Vice President Joe Biden, who knows a black kettle when he sees one, called the outburst "embarrassing." After scurrying out of the chambers as soon as Obama finished his speech, Wilson issued an apology for his "lack of civility." A Hoosier blogger informs us, on the basis of one comment on Wilson's Facebook page, that he may be on the way to becoming a "folk hero."

So what's the big deal? I suppose that letting one politician call a sitting President a liar during a formal address could set a bad precedent. Would you want Barney Frank screeching "What planet are you from?" during the next Republican President's State of the Union address? Me neither. I doubt very much that the Republicans would have welcomed a similar display when Bush was lying about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or ties to Al-Qaeda, or calling for the privatization of Social Security.

The fuss, typically, seems obsessively focused on Wilson's lack of decorum. Was Obama telling the truth when he claimed that public health insurance wouldn't cover illegal aliens? I don't know, but I certainly wouldn't take his word for it. (P.S. September 12: He wasn't lying, and Wilson is in no position to cast the first stone, if it is a stone.) Obama does not have the best record for honesty in policy matters. (The true ending of "The Emperor's New Clothes" is that the little child who pointed out the Emperor's nakedness was dragged away to the dungeons and tortured until he revealed the names of his terrorist confederates. Liberal pundits opined that a major procession in a time of crisis was no time for such crude incivility.)

I, as usual, am more bemused by the spectacle of a Republican politician accusing a Democratic politician of lying. Since when did the Republicans put such a high premium on telling the truth? not when they were in power, that's for sure. Or even when they're attacking Democrats. I've been wondering, in fact, if Wilson wasn't just praising the President for his Republican mendacity -- if "You lie!" isn't just Republicanese for "You go, girl!"

P.S. September 11: I just saw this. Great minds think more or less alike.

P.P.S. September 12: And this. Glenn Greenwald nails it.