You wonder where the incivility in politics began, when the Republicans first started allowing rudeness and bigotry to enter their realm. It wasn’t with Donald Trump. He just saw that it was already there.
Maybe it was in September 2009, when Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to explain universal health care. Obama writes about the moment in his new book, “A Promised Land,” out next Tuesday.
“…less than thirty minutes into the speech…as I debunked the phony claim that the bill would insure undocumented immigrants—a relatively obscure five-term Republican congressman from South Carolina named Joe Wilson leaned forward in his seat, pointed in my direction, and shouted, his face flushed with fury, “You lie!”
“For the briefest moment, a stunned silence fell over the chamber. I turned to look for the heckler (as did Speaker Pelosi and Joe Biden, Nancy aghast and Joe shaking his head). I was tempted to exit my perch, make my way down the aisle, and smack the guy in the head. Instead, I simply responded by saying, “It’s not true,” and then carried on with my speech as Democrats hurled boos in Wilson’s direction.
“As far as anyone could remember, nothing like that had ever happened before a joint-session address—at least, not in modern times. Congressional criticism was swift and bipartisan, and, by the next morning, Wilson had apologized publicly for the breach of decorum, calling Rahm and asking that his regrets get passed on to me as well. I downplayed the matter, telling a reporter that I appreciated the apology and was a big believer that we all make mistakes.
“And yet I couldn’t help noticing the news reports saying that online contributions to Wilson’s reëlection campaign spiked sharply in the week following his outburst.
“Apparently, for many Republican voters out there, he was a hero, speaking truth to power. It was an indication that the Tea Party and its media allies had accomplished more than just their goal of demonizing the health-care bill. They had demonized me and, in doing so, had delivered a message to all Republican office-holders: when it came to opposing my Administration, the old rules no longer applied.”
Here’s the video of how it went down. Now we know what Obama was thinking:
Obama’s sense of humor in the book is exceptional. You see how he was able to tolerate fools and rise above. He recalls how one of his advisers was worried about getting the health care bill passed.
The adviser, Phil Schiliro, asks, “I guess the question for you, Mr. President, is, Do you feel lucky?”
Obama remembers: “I looked at him. “Where are we, Phil?”
Phil hesitated, wondering if it was a trick question. “The Oval Office?”
“And what’s my name?”
I smiled. “Barack Hussein Obama. And I’m here with you in the Oval Office. Brother, I always feel lucky.”