This is the media world we live in: you can sweat for days over an hourlong speech, and the next morning, some yahoo gets all the attention for barking out two words. “You lie!” shouted Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) at President Obama when the chief executive, addressing a joint session of Congress, said his health plan would not benefit illegal aliens.
I have no idea whether the outburst will have any effect on the dynamic in Washington or the health care bill. It would be nice to think, though, that it might be a kind of abrupt slap in the face that, even for a little while, gets Americans embarrassed about the state of our public discourse. Really? This is what we’re about now?
Politics aside—and look, I’ll admit my own are closer to Obama’s than to Wilson’s—it was really a kind of Idiocracy moment. It may have simply been an eruption of emotion, as Wilson said when he later apologized. But it’s hard not to see it as the natural culmination of every other outburst that gets rewarded in our culture: the freakouts at town halls, the barking on cable news, the insults on radio.
Presidents have been booed and sarcastically laughed at at speeches before. But the flagrancy of this one—falling into a moment of jaws-dropped silence like a turd in the civic punchbowl—made it that much more stark. The act was the statement, more than any specific words: there are no more places, it said, where this sort of thing just isn’t done.
And it wasn’t just Wilson’s Tourette’s moment. The cameras scanning the audience last night found congresspeople with props, as if they were attending a football game. One had a handmade sign (reading WHAT BILL?); others waved printed sheets of paper. Jesus, people: you couldn’t get the rainbow wigs and giant foam-rubber hands made in time?
It’s probably naive of me, though, to think that there’s anything that can really shock people about our political discourse anymore. But if you were flabbergasted—or if you weren’t—feel free to chime in. Or did you just watch Glee and So You Think You Can Dance instead?