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Parini: Shouting at the President

09/15/09 5:55PM By Jay Parini
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(HOST) Commentator Jay Parini has been thinking about the outbreak by Congressman Joe Wilson during the president's address last week to a joint session of Congress.

(PARINI) Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina lifted himself into the limelight when he shouted, "You lie!" in the midst of the president’s eloquent speech on health care last week.

Let me say I support the president’s healthcare ideas, in their broad outline.  The Devil, as always, will lie in the details; but there is no doubt in my mind that we need to do something to reform our broken system.

I’ve lived in Britain at various times in my life - adding up to nearly a decade in that country.  And I loved the National Health System, the NHS.  Most British people do, in fact.  Even the head of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, recently declared: "I support the NHS 100 percent, and the Conversative Party supports the NHS 100 percent."

Let’s just say that if a hundred percent of British conservatives like the system, it must be fairly popular.

In my view, we deserve to have the same system here, with free health care for everyone.  But of course this is not Britain.

I thought I was in parliament for a moment as I watched Joe Wilson shouting at the president.  The Brits don’t hesitate to shout at their Prime Minister during the weekly Question Time.  I didn’t personally agree with Mr. Wilson, not for a second, but I didn’t actually mind the shout.  I liked how coolly Mr. Obama handled the objection.

By his shout, Mr. Wilson raised the immigration issue, which Republican politicians have attempted to use as a wedge to shoot down health care reforms.

I suspect that most Americans want emergency rooms in hospitals to treat all comers, whoever they are.  If you’re having a heart attack, you need attention, whatever passport you hold.  It’s that basic. The fact that our ER’s have become the only point of access to the medical system for those without insurance is, in itself, a serious problem in need of solving.

Personally, I hope Mr. Wilson didn’t manage to scare anybody listening to to Mr. Obama’s talk, and I don’t think he did.  His rudeness upset more people than it thrilled.

You’re not SUPPOSED to shout at the president before a joint session of Congress.  You can boo, perhaps.  Or not clap.  Or refuse to stand.  There are conventions here.

When President Bush put forward war plans for Iraq based on forged intelligence and dubious reasoning, did the Democrats shout him down?

Perhaps they should have.  I’m not convinced that a healthy democracy isn’t better off with a little shouting now and then.  Politeness can lead to passiveness in certain situations. I didn’t much like it when Joe Wilson screamed at the president; but I smiled a little to myself, thinking: Welcome to Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Maybe we’ll take on some of the better aspects of British culture, too: including a health care system that reflects our greatness as a nation based on the fundamental principle of equality.
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