Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Enough's Enough, America

There comes a time in history when an adult enters the fray of uncivil discourse, shakes America by her broad shoulders, and admonishes everyone that enough is enough. I'm uncertain whether former President Jimmy Carter is that heroic adult.

Carter in an interview Tuesday and later in an address to his own forum said Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst to President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress last week was an act "based on racism" and rooted in fears a black man is incapable of being president.

I'm up to my neck with disgust every time an argument degenerates when the race, gender, religious, nationality or sexual preference card is played. Carter, who arguably was the worst president since Warren Harding, has some street creds, at least for a white man, on race.

The Plains, Georgia, native whose best childhood friends were black, has an exemplary record of governor of a southern state and president as a champion and empathetic defender of black people in America.

“Racism ... still exists and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply,” Carter told NBC News.

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican congressman, was scolded in a House resolution Tuesday 240 to 179. The House held that by shouting "You lie" during the president’s speech, Wilson committed a “breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House.”

The rebuke was demanded by the Democratic black caucus because Wilson refused to apologize on the House floor although he did, upon instructions from Republican house leaders, relay his forgiveness to the White House which Obama accepted.

No one knows whether racism harbors in Wilson's mind. Some pundits on the cable networks speculated he had too much to drink before attending the joint congressional speech. Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column Sunday thought but was uncertain whether Wilson's outburst was "You, lie, boy!" Wilson's wife asked him who was the nut who yelled at the president.

"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him."

Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, said he has known Wilson for years and doubts the remarks were motivated by racism. "I think Joe's conduct was asinine, but I think it would be asinine no matter what the color of the president," he said. "I don't think Joe's outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American. I think it was caused by no filter being between his brain and his mouth."

Michael Steele, the black Republican Party chairman, said:

President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn't about race. It is about policy. This is a pathetic distraction by Democrats to shift attention away from the president's wildly unpopular government-run health care plan that the American people simply oppose.

Injecting race into the debate over critical issues facing American families doesn't create jobs, reform our health care system or reduce the growing deficit. It only divides Americans rather than uniting us to find solutions to challenges facing our nation.

I find this argument to seriously address the health care reform debate by Republicans astonishing. Not a single Republican has voted in favor of any of the bills offered by the Democrats. They contend the Democrats won't accept their ideas despite the fact hundreds of Republican amendments to the proposed legislation have been included in the process leading to the mark ups or floor votes. It's their problem, not the Democrats, they are the minority party.

The race card may or may not be red herring. What is real is the uncivil discourse we see from town hall meetings and marches on Washington, writes Robin Abcarin in the Los Angeles Times. She quotes a University of Washington sociologist the bad discourse began in the 1960s when America's youth challenged the Vietnam War.

Cultural critic and writer Joseph Epstein thinks civility was purely a facade to begin with, Abcarin writes:

The public figures who crossed the line have careers that generally require them to create "false PR personalities," Epstein said. "These were eruptions of true, loathsome feelings after all these years of suppression and having to pretend to be such sweet characters when they are not. What they all were before is as phony as can be. They all just said, 'I can't take it anymore,' and they all fell apart."

Abcarin then interviews Drew Westen, an Emory University psychologist who has studied the effects of unconscious racism in political contests. He said it was no accident that most of these incidents involved blacks and whites.

"I think racial tensions on both sides are pretty high right now," Westen said. "It's on a new level now because it's not conscious or overt. It's bubbling underneath. What might have led to a small reaction or a thought to yourself that something is unfair is now popping out of people's mouths."

And then Westen, a Democratic consultant, takes a swipe at Obama for not taking advantage of Wilson's outburst.

"The president had just said in his speech that he is happy to work with people who want solutions, but 'I will call you out' to those who are getting in the way and being uncivil. And then Joe Wilson calls him a liar to his face in front of the whole nation. He should have said, 'Excuse me, I believe someone just called me a liar. Would you like to stand up?' "

That Obama did not do that, said Westen, "was an object lesson in why the right continues to escalate their incivility."

Let's give credit where credit is due. Three cheers to the Republican attack squads who have framed the national debate to their terms. It is derisive, negative, pocked with lies and distortions and will do Americans no benefit. It is their way of restoring America to its founding freedoms of rising health costs, failing banking institutions, filthy air and wars that have no redeeming outcomes.

A pox on the Democrats for allowing this to happen. Nor will I buy their sanctimonious whining they never called President Bush a liar during his address to a joint congress. They did that and more out of chambers coaxed and fanned by a vicious left wing media blitz.

Come on, America. Can't we all just get along?

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