We seem to have lost it.
Or is it that we've lost our minds?
Even as the President was calling for civility during an historic Joint Session of Congress, it became obvious that it had already left the building.
In case you've been under a rock or in a monastery on silent retreat for the past week, I'm talking about this: Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) heckled the President during his speech on Health Care Reform. That's him in the picture above during the historic moment of shame.
I watched - and heard - it happen and I still can't believe it.
The President was in the process of debunking the horrible lies and scare tactics that have been circulated by the Radical Right. He had just spoken about the rumors - the horrible flat-out lies about "death panels" which had been circulated by none other than Sarah Palin - and was just asserting that legislation for health care reform would not mandate coverage for illegal immigrants.
"You lie!" shouted Rep. Wilson - another man from South Carolina, doing his state proud. You can hear the moment recorded here.
The Associated Press noted:
It wasn't the only interruption during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives. Earlier, Republicans laughed when Obama acknowledged that there are still significant details to be worked out before a health overhaul can be passed.
Wilson's outburst caused Obama to pause briefly before he went on with his speech. Overhead in the visitors' gallery, first Lady Michelle Obama shook her head from side to side.
What the what? I mean, this was a Joint Session of Congress, not a meeting of the British House of Commons (admittedly the 'Lower House' of Parliament - the 'Upper House' being the House of Lords, but that has nothing, nothing in the world, to do with a two-track Anglican Covenant) where heckling and brawls are standard operating procedure.
All of that renowned British Reserve goes right out the window -- which may be due to the fact that there are more pubs around Parliament than tea shops or cafes.
This is the kind of behavior one expects from the comment section of some of the "orthodox," so-called "Christian" blogs. In fact, I'm thinking Joe Wilson might be either the one who signs off as "BornAgainAnglican" or, perhaps, "SaintAnonymous".
Joe Wilson is a Man of the South. A Southern Gentleman. Someone whose Momma taught him Southern Hospitality and How to Behave in Public. ('Yes, sir. No, Ma'am')
Then again, so is the governor of South Carolina, a family man with family values with a wife and four kids, who had that steamy-hot, notorious affair with a South American woman ("my soul mate").
Remember him? Sanford. Mark Sanford. Some folk are continuing to call for his resignation. During his last tryst with his mistress, the story he told his staff and his staff told the world was that he was "Hiking the Appalachian Trail."
Yeah, that's right. That's the ticket. Sheesh! Is there something in the water in South Carolina?
Which reminds me: The Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina is Mark "I'm not going to leave the Episcopal Church" Lawrence, who is heading up the "Common Partnership Bishops" who seek to find a way to be Anglican (and orthodox) so they can gather up those who have gone astray under the more broken of the right winged brethren and THEN fulfill the dream of supplanting The Episcopal Church as the "true church."
No, they haven't said that, flat out, but if you woke up the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina at 3 o'clock in the morning in the midst of one of his dreams of glory and asked the question, my money is on the fact that he would not yell, "You lie!"
It is also home to the founder of "Chicken Little Anglican Theology", the ubiquitous and peripatetic Kendall "The Anglican Sky Is Falling" Harmon, as well as "orthodox" acid-tongue blogger Sarah "Dolphin and Maternal Like" Hey.
Let us not forget the former South Carolinian senator Strom Thurman. Remember him? He's the only US Senator to have reached the age of 100 while still in office. He also holds the record for the longest filibuster ever by a U.S. Senator in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, at 24 hours and 18 minutes in length, nonstop.
Oh, yeah. He was also a "Dixiecrat,' a 'segregationist' who, it was revealed after his death, had fathered a child at age 22 with Carrie Butler, a then 16-year-old household servant, who was African American.
I'm going to resist playing into the stereotype of the Southern Man as the Face of Racism in the United States of America. God knows, there's enough racism hidden in the most surprising corners of this country for me to know that Racism is not a Southern Malaise or one that has geographical boundaries.
But I am going to call it for what it is - or, at least, what that tawdry demonstration of lack of civility was fueled by: Racism.
There, I said it.
A White Girl from the Affluent Suburbs of New Jersey played the Race Card.
Not a difficult feat. It's not exactly Rocket Science.
Since we were talking about 'lies', let's tell the truth, shall we? That would never - EVER - have happened if the President were Caucasian.
You know it. I know it. Some of us understand that one does not have to be civil to the "dhakies". So, Joe Wilson wasn't. Didn't have to be. It was also part of his childhood training in How To Behave in Public.
"You have to be carefully taught."
I understand he apologized within the hour, saying, "I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President's remarks" . It was pretty clear he apologized only because he was told he had to or he would be banned from the floor of the house until he did. That's hardly an apology.
It wasn't even the first time the man "let his emotions get the best of him." Turns out, in mid-December 2003, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, an African American and daughter of the above mentioned Carrie Butler, came forward with the bombshell that she was the illegitimate daughter of the recently-deceased patriarch of South Carolina politics, Sen. Strom Thurmond.
Rep. Wilson, a former page of Thurmond's, immediately told The State newspaper that he didn't believe Williams. He deemed the revelation "unseemly." And he added that even if she was telling the truth, she should have kept the inconvenient facts to herself.
"It's a smear on the image that [Thurmond] has as a person of high integrity who has been so loyal to the people of South Carolina," Wilson said.
And, of course, Rep. Wilson is a veritable paragon of virtue, a virtual bastion of 'high integrity'.
Smear? 'Takes one to know one', eh?
While racism is certainly a central dynamic to the lack of civility in our public discourse, it can not be underestimated as the underlying cause of the outbursts during the Joint Session of Congress, which are fueled by the volatile, toxic fodder spread by Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, as well as the . . ."concern" . . . expressed by parents who didn't want their school-aged children to listen to a special address by the President of the United States.
And, what did the President say? Oh, stuff like this:
"But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."And:
"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country."Hard work? Personal Responsibility? Patriotism? Even 'honor thy father and mother'?
Sounds like the making of a 'commie socialist plot' to me.
Yes, all of this is being fueled by the religious fervor of Radical Right Fringe groups. Yes, it is part of the "Political Theater" that has always been part of our system of government since the Boston Tea Party - not to be confused with the present day 'Tea Baggers'.
It's pretty clear to me that Obama's race leads some of his critics to feel they have permission to deny him the legitimacy, stature and common courtesy that are any president's due.
The ugly, public demonstration of the lack of civility among some members of Congress is just the tip of the iceberg of escalating violence in this country.
Yes, people are anxious about the inflation, recession, depression and rising unemployment that are part of our present reality. All of these anxieties find an unhappy home in the issue of Health Care Reform.
Those who are most anxious, however, seem to have forgotten that the same Right Wing Nuts who are feeding their fears are the very ones who helped to bring it about.
During his speech to the Joint Session of Congress on Health Care Reform, President Obama said "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."
Given the building climate of violence in this country, I don't know if I'm the only one who had the thought, "That may be the greatest line of this speech" while simultaneously experiencing a cold chill.
I'm hoping and praying that this was not an awful premonition of the consequences of his determination.
Take a good look. The lack of civility we saw the other night is the public face of racism in this country.
It's far from a pretty picture. The question is: What are we - especially those of us who are Christians - going to do about it?