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The Art of the Insult in the House of Commons

Can you call the British prime minister a liar when he is speaking in the House of Commons? As a former holder of a House of Commons press pass, I have been asked by my colleagues to rule on this important issue, brought to our attention by Joe Wilson’s outburst during the President’s health-care speech to Congress. The answer is no: While it is true that you are certainly allowed (indeed encouraged) to heckle the prime minister or any other speaker, it is strictly forbidden to call him a liar. And if you do, the Speaker of the House is entitled to object and ask you withdraw this “unparliamentary language.” Over the years, Speakers have in addition objected to other insults, among them (according to the rule book) blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor. And no one is allowed to accuse another member of being drunk, either, even though some of them sometimes are.

It is also perfectly true, however, that British parliamentarians have found elaborate ways of getting around these rules. Winston Churchill once used the phrase “terminological inexactitude” for “lie.” Much debate has been held over whether one is allowed to accuse someone of “being economical with the truth.” If nothing else, the rule forces members of parliament to polish up their linguistic skills. Any idiot can shout out a crude insult, but it takes real skill and intelligence to make your point and skewer your opponent using elegant rhetoric.

By Anne Applebaum  | September 11, 2009; 7:55 AM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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Comments

It has to be remembered that there is a significant difference between a US president and a British or in my case Canadian prime minister. Presidents are elected separately and to some extent are the ceremonial representative of the country and head of state, A prime minister is simply another member of parliament elected in his own riding,selected by his party and appointed to the Privy council. As such you don't insult the country or even a majority of the country that elected his party if you insult the prime minister, in a sense a member of parliament would be only insulting another member. As such a prime minister can only keep his job if he retains the confidence of the majority of the members. For most countries with parliamentary systems the deference and ceremony attached to the president is rather odd.

Posted by: jonmce | September 11, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

"Any idiot can shout out a crude insult, but it takes real skill and intelligence to make your point and skewer your opponent using elegant rhetoric."

And any idiot can blurble pointlessly in Washington Post column, but it takes real skill and intelligence (and more than 5 minutes of effort) to actually make any kind of coherent point that elucidates anything at all. But hey, Post's got inches to fill.

Posted by: stalwani | September 11, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Well, if Britain is to be the standard by which we make excuses for Joe the Congressman's behavior, why can't it be the standard by which we deliver health care?

Posted by: SarahBB | September 11, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

If I had wanted to watch a brute-force approach to dealing with problems, I would have rented one of those car chase/explosion movies. What I *do* want is for the good ol' US of A to catch up to the rest of the world on health care so I can move ahead on starting my own business and not have to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills. Save the hootin' and hollerin' for the barnyard.

Posted by: n_mcguire | September 11, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I believe Marlon Brandon as the "Godfather" said it best in that he would only deal with "reasonable men" in conducting business. His character, too, had no use for emotional crazy talk.

Posted by: pv2bdrco | September 11, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

"Real skill?" "Intelligence?" "Republican Congressman" These words don't belong in the same paragraph.

Posted by: jp1954 | September 11, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone remember Hillary dissing General Petraeus saying his report required a "suspension of disbelief"? Or Chavez speaking, at the U.N., of President Bush, "The devil came here yesterday"? Or Amedinejad's letter to Bush, "Lies were told"? Don't remember any great uproar over those remarks or any apologies made.

Posted by: LLWB | September 11, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson and his entire family now currently get fully paid (by the taxpayer) government-run health care. All the while, Joe Wilson voted to CUT health care to our true patriots, the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.
The link below from Newsweek articulates this clearly.

http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thegaggle/archive/2009/09/10/joe-wilson-s-dirty-health-care-secret.aspx

Posted by: hayden1 | September 11, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I am not aware that the procedures and practices of the British Parliament result in high level discourse or decision making. The British Parliament, like our Congress, seems largely made up of ex-working class grunts on the one side and effeminate would-be aristocrats on the other.

Posted by: ravitchn | September 11, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, legislators in many countries these days think they are doing their constituents a disservice if they (are able to) speak above the lowest common denominator. Eloquence, wit and raising the level of debate are sadly lacking in North American politics. And people wonder why we're in such trouble.

Posted by: lrd1958 | September 11, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone remember Hillary dissing General Petraeus saying his report required a "suspension of disbelief"? Or Chavez speaking, at the U.N., of President Bush, "The devil came here yesterday"? Or Amedinejad's letter to Bush, "Lies were told"? Don't remember any great uproar over those remarks or any apologies made.

***************************************
To equate these examples with Joe Wilson's behavior is inexact. This gathering was a "Joint Session of Congress", and the presentation made by an elected President to an elected Congress.

What Joe Wilson did Wednesday just isn't supposed to be done! We expect crap to be spouted from the likes of Chavez and Ahmedinejad. Hillary Clinton's "suspension of disbelief" was a comment, and, as a member of Congress, was appropriate.

Had an ordinary citizen in the viewing stands uttered "That's a lie" they would have been tossed out on their ear. We expect better from our elected officials.

This isn't a game, and people are tired of Karl Rove tactics.

I don't see how it is so difficult for Republicans to say - we'll agree to this or that bill provided there is language that will not permit illegal aliens to see care under any federal government program.

Here's what many fail to realize - you are currently paying for other's peoples lack of health care. Health Care is one of the biggest costs to employers, but the Republicans are so in the Insurance Companies' pockets that they won't admit it. I don't get it, doesn't anyone think health care costs will be ridiculous in 5 years? Bankruptcy of individuals hurts businesses, but we don't see that cost taken into account.

We need to level the playing field with other nations who do provide this to all their citizens. These much smaller nations are doing better than we are in this economic crisis, do you all wonder why?

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | September 11, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, this passes for eloquence in today's GOP after 8 years of W. Besides, it's easily compressed into a sound bite and diverts attention away from reasoned public discourse, the twin goals of Republican policy.

Posted by: wmorgan3 | September 11, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I can live with that.
Disagreeing is not bad;
but disagreeing disagreeably is - as was done by Joe Wilson.

Posted by: Kingofkings1 | September 11, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Remember, Anne, we are in the land of Twitter (or is it OZ). Complex ideas, or complex speech are becoming extinct. Should we any longer expect anything else from those we have selected to represent us?

Posted by: Geezer4 | September 11, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"Does anyone remember Hillary dissing General Petraeus saying his report required a "suspension of disbelief"? Or Chavez speaking, at the U.N., of President Bush, "The devil came here yesterday"? Or Amedinejad's letter to Bush, "Lies were told"? Don't remember any great uproar over those remarks or any apologies made."
_______________________________________

Of interest is the standard GOP defense of Bush/Cheney that they did nothing wrong. The fact that they got us into an unnecessary war of choice through manipulation of data and people (CIA, Colin Powell, Valerie Plame, torture, violation of human rights), while neglecting the real war in Afghanistan. They distorted, manipulated and schemed to get the war they wanted - i.e., they lied. This cannot possibly be compared to Obama's efforts to do something positive for a significant percentage of Americans who can and will die without affordable medical care. Get over yourselves, GOP.

Posted by: sundog2 | September 11, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Where is the lie? Ask around. Survey the people who are involved in government-run health care programs. They will tell you that they are covering tens and thousands of illegal immigrants (on a country basis only), even if they pretend to ask for your proof of citizenship or legal residency when you first approach them for inclusion in their program. Those who are citizens and legal residents must pass thru the eye of the needle to get in. Illegal immigrants are simply just welcome! These programs started during the Bush administration, the so-called opponents of illegal immigration.

Posted by: Philsman | September 11, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Watching Parliament on C-Span or directly (if you have the chance) is very funny. Generally they speak better than American legislators, particularly frontbenchers, because they are regularly exposed to direct verbal assaults. That makes them sharper. The US Congress would benefit from such a system because many of the US legislators are poor speakers, and being ridiculed for their inability might make them improve their skills. Joe Wilson would have to come up with something cleverer than "you lie" to hold his own. And he probably wouldn't, so he'd be reduced to silence by shame.

But all of the above is irrelevant to the Wilson-Obama issue. Obama's not part of the legislature. The head of state in most places is not subjected to the same language as legislators. The only good which might come out of the Wilson outburst is that it is now much less likely to happen again (by either side) and it diminishes the credibility of the GOP argument.

Posted by: Matthew_DC | September 11, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

These normally xenophobic conservatives wouldn't take foreign advice on how to make a pizza from Italy but the racouse behaviour from the House of Parliment in England they just had to import.

Posted by: kchses1 | September 11, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

The one issue that many fail to understand is that our country and it's government is experiencing a full, frontal attack by corporate America.

The very day Joe Wilson made a fool of himself in front of a national audience, our Supreme Court heard arguments that could decide whether large corporations, with their enormous funds, should be given the same rights as "Individuals" to affect change in passage of political issues and elections of candidates in our country.

The McCain-Feingold election law greatly restricted the use of third party spending to help candidates. On radio, television, cable TV, or satellite broadcast such spending was banned for 30 days before a primary election or nominating convention, or within 60 days before a general election.

The question being asked is: "Is outlawing political speech based on the identity of the speaker compatible with the First Amendment?" And the case being "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" and whether expressed advocacy can influence elections toward candidates who carry significant weight in Congress to deliver on favors, or deny individual citizens rights to equal justice under the law.

"Imagine power companies spending millions of dollars on ads in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections accusing congressmen who supported climate change legislation of trying to increase electric rates and urging votes against them, or unions buying airtime to support primary challenges to conservative Democratic senators who opposed the labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act. Or even healthcare companies saturating the airwaves with messages urging voters to deny President Obama a second term.

...the Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges decades of restrictions on corporations and unions spending unlimited cash on just those sorts of ads. Even more broadly, the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, gives the court’s conservative majority a chance to fundamentally redefine the role of corporations and unions in American politics.

Campaign finance experts predict the court, which has demonstrated an inclination towards incremental loosening of rules restricting the flow of money into politics, will expand the types of ads corporations and unions can pay for. Their only question is just how much the justices will open the floodgates."

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0909/26843.html

By reversing McCain/Feingold the Supreme Court could reverse the Legislative responsibilities from Congress to the Supreme Court. Wasn't it the Republicans who complained about Sonia Sotomayor? (Who by the way, cited previous Supreme Court precedent in "Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce" in 2007.

Stop the flow of influence peddling with unlimited corporate funds upon our government!


Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | September 11, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Huckabee apologists for Wilson's schoolyard bully behavior are like Catholics who make excuses for pedophile priests while whining, "others do it, too"

There's quite a difference in booing a President and shouting "you lie!" in the House Chamber and there are rules of decorum for the later. Huckabees know it and their "everybody does it" excuse is no less than immature and adolescent.

Wilson's apology was far from sincere and, although Obama accepted it as the class gentleman he is, Congress needs censure Wilson for his Rovian outburst.

Posted by: coloradodog | September 11, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

The ability to speak eloquently depends on an equally eloquent thought process. Simple expletives display only emotional response.

Shawn Rosenberg did a number of psychological/cognitive experiments and compared the results with party affiliation. The one I remember required participants to figure out what factors influence the period of a pendulum by adjusting weight, length, and height of release. Some could hold two factors constant and systematically vary the third and come up with the correct answer. Others would fiddle around with this and that, changing two or three things at once, and never solve the problem. The latter group were more likely to identify as conservatives/Republicans.

So to all you smart and analytical Republicans out there - you should either figure out how to explain the real world to your coreligionists, or seek better companions.

Posted by: j2hess | September 11, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Joe has to go! The more I read about this man the more I think the GOP is between a rock and a hard spot with him.

He's a continual reminder that no matter how bad the democrats are, the pubs are worse.

Posted by: agapn9 | September 11, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Decorum issue aside, the fact is that, according to two independent bodies, The Center for Immigration Studies and the Congressional Research Service (CRS, a non-partisan research arm of Congress), the proposed Health Care legislation will enable illegal aliens to receive benefits under it due to the presence of two major loopholes which the Democrats have refused to close, despite Republican proposals directly concerned with serious fault:

http://www.cis.org/IllegalsAndHealthCareHR3200

After a lengthy assessment of the financial costs to the American public, the Center for Immigration Studies report concludes, "At present, there seems little to prevent illegal immigrants from accessing the proposed taxpayer-subsidized health insurance."

Within the body of the CSI's report is a portion of the Congressional Research Service's own Report published, and largely ignored by print media, on August 26, 2009 which concludes that, due to these two major loopholes (which it details), illegal aliens will be able to receive benefits under the Health Care Bill HR3200: "HR3200 does not contain any restrictions on non-citizens, whether legally or illegally present, or in the US temporarily or permanently, from participating in the Exchange. Illegal aliens can enroll in the public option courtesy of US taxpayers to meet their health insurance needs" (also at CNN.com Aug 2009)...the second loophole being the failure to require any meaningful verification procedure for taxpayer-subsidized insurance credits.

The issue of parliamentary/congressional decorum pales into insignificance against this issue of illegal aliens' ability to benefit under ANY health care plan. If this is not addressed honestly and firmly, any health care plan will, and should rightly, fail.

Posted by: swarz226 | September 11, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The rule that members are not allowed to accuse another member of being drunk was evidently violated in the case of famous exchange between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill. Lady Astor: "Sir, you are drunk." Sir Winston: And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning I will be sober."

Posted by: twevans1 | September 11, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

The source from which Ms. Apelbaum drew her column: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/G07.pdf

"Language and expressions used in the Chamber must conform to a number of rules. Erskine May states "good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language". Objection has been taken both to individual words and to sentences and constructions ‐ in the case of the former, to insulting, coarse, or abusive language (particularly as applied to other Members); and of the latter, to charges of lying or being drunk and misrepresentation of the words of another. Among the words to which Speakers have objected over the years have been blackguard, coward, git, guttersnipe, hooligan, rat, swine, stoolpigeon and traitor. The context in which a word is used is, of course, very important."

"The Speaker will direct a Member who has used an unparliamentary word or phrase to withdraw it. Members sometimes use considerable ingenuity to circumvent these rules (as when, for instance, Winston Churchill substituted the phrase "terminological inexactitude" for "lie") but they must be careful to obey the Speaker's directions, as a Member who refuses to retract an offending
expression may be named (see below) or required to withdraw from the Chamber."

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 11, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point on the same topic:

"I see a lot of commentary that compares Joe Wilson's "You Lie!" outburst with the ruckus that often happens in the House of Commons. But one thing you are not allowed to shout in the Commons is that another speaker is a liar. A lot of circumlocutions evolved to bypass this - "terminological inexactitude" is my favorite (Churchill, of course) - but the ban is for a reason. Once the opposition starts yelling "You lie!" they have essentially abandoned the deliberative process, by questioning the good faith of a speaker. Without an assumption of good faith or a factual rebuttal, just calling someone a liar abolishes the integrity of the debating process."

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/09/the-british-counterexample.html

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 11, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

What little is left of the Republican Party is destroying what little is left of the Republican Party.

RIP, GOP.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 11, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

"he proposed Health Care legislation will enable illegal aliens to receive benefits under it due to the presence of two major loopholes which the Democrats have refused to close"

Closing "loopholes" without denying coverage to legitimate recipients is a tricky business; rejecting overly broad restrictions will allow more carefully crafted solutions to emerge.

The Center for Immigration Studies may be formally independent but is closely tied to Republicans by its sources of funding and has an anti-immigrant bias. When I have looked at their work in the past, they have misrepresented issues by the data they select and how they interpret it.

Further, an analysis of HR3200 ignores that it is not the final bill and work continues in the Senate. The final bill will contain language restricting benefits. Some benefits will leak through the cracks, and opponents will inflate the fact that a perfect world is not possible into a major issue. But as the immigration reform of 1996 was largely successful in eliminating welfare for unauthorized residents (and most authorized resident aliens), the health care reforms will similarly accrue largely to the intended beneficiaries - you and I.

Posted by: j2hess | September 11, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"The rule that members are not allowed to accuse another member of being drunk was evidently violated in the case of famous exchange between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill. Lady Astor: "Sir, you are drunk." Sir Winston: And you, madam, are ugly. But in the morning I will be sober."

Posted by: twevans1

_____________________________________

1. The exchange between Lady Astor and Churchill took place over dinner at Blenheim (where Churchill was born).

2. The exchange went as follows:

Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."

Churchill: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

3. The exchange to which you refer reputedly happened between Churchill and Labor MP Bessie Braddock -- at a party (if it actually happened). If it had happened in the House of Commons there would be a record in Hansard. And both would have been rebuked by the Speaker.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | September 11, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse


Well, given the fact that AIPAC

runs congress, perhaps the better comparison would've been the Kenesset, or whatever.

That's an a constantly ugly spectacle that makes other parliaments look serene.

Posted by: whistling | September 11, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I should imagine no-one can lie to the Congress if the Congress is being addressed to have it required to accept such address as fact.
A congressman would have any right to decide to protect the integrity of the Congress which is the combined integrity of its numbers.
I should though imagine he would have to be correct and if correct make no apologies. If incorrect I think he'd be just a plain show-off.

Posted by: abovetheassault | September 11, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Joe Wilson's only mistake was to be unaquainted with Winston Churchill's strategy for insulting the honourable members of The House of Commons and getting away with it.
"Winnie" would use proscribed insults and immediately The Speaker reprimanded him he would apologise. The Speaker had little option but to accept his apology. No shocked little feminine "ooh's" were uttered through pursed lips - Just The Speaker's unflappable voice calming The House. "Winnies" more subtle insults took a while to be understood but then the moment had passed.

Posted by: joseallen | September 11, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

If only Joe had shouted "You, sir, have an obviously adversarial relationship with patently evident reality," all the unpleasantness might have been avoided.

Posted by: coy66ote | September 11, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

This author ardently supported sexist attacks on Clinton and Palin.

She needs to go.

Posted by: mgd1 | September 11, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I posted elsewhere my thought that the Congressman from South Carolina just might be correct. Then all of this pontificating will go up in smoke.

Posted by: CharlesGriffith1 | September 11, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I am reminded of what an Australian friend told me about a member of their Parliament from the Country Party, a small, rural party.

The MP rose in the House, and, by way of humility, began with the declaration:

"Well, I'm just a Country member..."

to which he heard the response,

"Yeah, we remember!"

Posted by: anticlimacus | September 12, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

"Does anyone remember Hillary dissing General Petraeus saying his report required a "suspension of disbelief"? Or Chavez speaking, at the U.N., of President Bush, "The devil came here yesterday"? Or Amedinejad's letter to Bush, "Lies were told"? Don't remember any great uproar over those remarks or any apologies made. Posted by: LLWB "

Being insulting during hearings, debates, or just the normal legislative process is one thing. Then the standard to be exercised is "was the insult original, or just banal, trite, unimaginative." Even in the standards of Congressional debate Wilson is less than mediocre.

His out burst during the Presidents address was flatly against ordinary House rules, and the House out to at least admonish him.

More to the point, his calling the President a liar in those circumstances is exactly a lie and forbidden under normal Congressional rules. Wilson knows that what the President said was quite exactly true, and that the republican claims to the contrary are based on interpretations of interpretations of practices unrelated to ANY of the health care bills.

It was merely rude, ill mannered and about what you might expect from a true republican back bencher.

And it certainly isn't even related to a great history of classic insults in Congress. John Randolph he isn't. Henry Clay he isn't.

Even Preston Brooks he isn't.

Posted by: ceflynline | September 12, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Hear, hear! Joe Wilson is but a half-size above throwing shoes. It may have something to do with his inability to think of a clever retort when his term of office is so short.

Posted by: deucebollards | September 13, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

This wasn't a parliamentary debate. It was a set piece. All the comparisons are completely irrelevant.

Etiquette for a presidential address to a joint session of congress calls for response via applause (or lack of it), standing to applaud (or not), and body language. That's ALL.

Wilson patently violated that etiquette. He should have been removed. But if his interruption was planned (of which I'm not convinced), he succeeded admirably in what was presumably his goal: to create yet another polarizing distraction.

I just hope it doesn't set a precedent, but I'm afraid it will.

Posted by: herzliebster | September 14, 2009 4:49 AM | Report abuse

It's true that there is a difference between public debate, which has very few rules, parliamentary debate, which still needs some rules as AA says, and dignified public occasions where heckling is out of place. In the UK the Prime Minister is often heckled but the Queen's Speech, the ancestor of the President's speeches, is not.

Posted by: MHughes976 | September 14, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Mr.Obama

You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie
ou Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie You Lie

Song to the tune of, “Obama You Lie”
composer- Joe Wilson
#1 on the charts in all genres

Really Catchy and Really True

BTW, there are at least a hundred choruses to this catchy song. And they are all true!

Posted by: ekim53 | September 14, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Nice piece, but the UK is now behind the curve in almost anything and these hollow rituals and rules are meaningless.

What should we make of a Parliament where not every member has a place to sit?

The country is sick and clings desperately to the past and outdated conventions. But we have all seen how British MPs were on the take. Can we call them thieves? Because this is what most of them are.

Posted by: brux1 | September 15, 2009 6:56 AM | Report abuse

1603 HOLLAND 'Plutarch's Mor.' 618 Talking of the instances, the insults, the intercidences, communities of diseases, and all to shew .. that we know the words and tearmes of physick.

Posted by: edtroyhampton | September 16, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

President Carter is speaking a truth that few Americans are willing to hear. He grew up at the height of Jim Crow in the Deep South—the man knows racism when he sees it. Most white Americans simply cannot face the ugly past of “race in America” and how much it is still with us today.

Rep. Joe Wilson’s, R-S.C., inability to contain himself from yelling out “You lie” at the president during a joint session of Congress is a classic case of an angry Southern white male reaching his limit with the uppity Ivy-League educated, one-term-senator-turned-president. Some may argue that this doesn’t make him a racist. But at best, his outburst demonstrates an intolerance and a lack of respect that he never would have shown to a white commander in chief. Such is the case with much of what we hear from our fellow citizens. There is an anger, a vitriol, a hatred of this president that seems deeply personal. And it is unnerving.

As Americans, all of us should be alarmed at the increasing hostility of our dialogue: There’s Fox News TV host Glenn Beck calling the president a “racist.” Rush Limbaugh declaring that “Obama’s America” is one “where black kids can beat up white kids on a bus.” Then there’s the “birthers” who swear that Obama is not a legitimate commander in chief and those who sob that they want “their country back.” My question is: From whom do you want your country back?

The problem is that we’ve gotten so used to not dealing with racial tensions in this country. They’ve become so nuanced that we cover or shrug them off because they are not as blatant as they were in the 1790s, 1840s, 1920s or 1960s. That’s a mistake. Whether we like it or not, those tensions are still here with us.

Posted by: Privilegedmen | September 17, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

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