The question of whether America is ready to embrace a black President was not answered November 4, 2008 and will likely remain unanswered until the end of Barack Obama’s Presidency and beyond. However, a recent irreverent outburst by Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) on the floor of the House of Representatives during the President’s speech to a joint session of congress has caused some to answer the above question in the negative. Maureen Dowd and former President Jimmy Carter have argued that Wilson’s comments were motivated by racism. Others argue that Wilson temporarily lost control of his emotions and his outburst was simply a momentary lapse in civility. I have no authority to judge whether or not Congressman Wilson is a racist, and I will not speculate on the matter. However, I do contend that Congressman Wilson’s outburst was likely influenced by the twin themes of race-based politic and incivility that currently epitomize the Republican opposition.
The type of irreverent behavior exhibited by Wilson can easily be categorized as the height of political incivility. Had such a slanderous offense been hurled at President Andrew Jackson, Wilson would have been asked to meet outside the chamber for a duel. Although stunning in its ostentatiousness, Wilson’s lack of civility has been a trademark of Republican opposition throughout August and on full display in town halls across America. While many Republicans approached these meetings as an opportunity to learn more about competing health care proposals, others arrived armed with republican talking points and determined to disrupt the free flow of information. What’s more, this rancorous tone has been magnified by the race-based politics and name calling of conservative commentators.
Rush Limbaugh and Fox News Networks commentators, the de facto leaders of the conservative party, have been playing offense with the race card since President Obama’s inauguration. Limbaugh has called President Obama an “angry black man,” while Glenn Beck called him a “racist…with serious issues with white people.” Glenn Beck further aggravates the race issue by calling the President’s efforts on health care, “Reparations by Health Care Reform.” Beck contends that “Obama’s health care plan” is “affirmative action on steroids;” designed to give African Americans a privileged position in health care. In one fell swoop, Beck places America back into the pre-civil rights era black versus white binary. His call to white Americans is to “protect your own” because the black president is doing the same at your expense.
Beck, and his fellow extremist foghorns, encourage whites to flock to gun stores and expos to purchase artillery and munitions to defend themselves against the socialist bent on destroying their way of life. To this group, President Obama is not your normal socialist, he is a hybrid Nazi fascist-socialist in the mold of Adolf Hitler. His goal is to destroy white America to make way for the reign of the black “master race.” Outside of being preposterous, this sort of rhetoric is wholly and completely irresponsible. While the First Amendment gives these commentators the right to speak in this manner, it does not make it prudent.
The tone of the current debate has gotten wildly out of hand. Understanding the convergence of race-based politics and incivility is useful in understanding Congressman Wilson’s outburst and the general tenor of the opposition in our current political discourse. Opposition commentators and representatives have employed name calling, race-baiting and fear mongering in their quest to dismantle the President’s agenda. I’m sure they all carry bumper stickers reading “You Lie,” and “Civility, the Loser’s Virtue.”