Historically, South Carolina is known for showing incredible audacity to do what others will not, no matter what the circumstance, for what they believe is right, no matter how wrong it is. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance of secession. This was the pivotal step that paved the way for the strategy of separate state secession. South Carolina was arguably the most extreme pro-slavery state in the Union and it seemed logical to Southern Democrats that any fight over maintaining the peculiar institution should be fought in one of their strongholds. Not surprisingly, it was also in South Carolina at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 that the first shots were fired in the Civil War.
Another shot was fired tonight during President Obama's speech to the nation regarding healthcare. The shot rang from the mouth of Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina. During the President's speech, Wilson yelled, "You Lie!" to the top of his lungs, mirroring a recent trend of hecklers that we have all witnessed on the news during the summer, as members of Congress and even the President himself have held town hall meetings around the nation. Such outbursts have been viewed by those from the conservative circles as their right to speak in a public forum or "free speech" in some kind of twisted "the voices of the masses must be heard" ideology. The reality is that this type of thought is the ideology of dissent, the specter of unrelenting fear, governed by ignorance, and baptized in the waters of white supremacy. Can one ever voice a concern that does not agree with the majority? Of course, but there must be some civility in the discourse.
Discourse. Some Republicans and Democrats should look that word up. Sadly this nation has markedly been about choosing one side of the political aisle or another...there has never been any meaningful political dialogue. Even when we have declared war (unjustly), no one wants to discuss peace. Ironically enough, the declaration of the War in Iraq was the last time we heard about bipartisanship during the Bush administration--particularly, when everyone wanted to know after 9/11 which members of Congress did not vote for the war. The quote “American people" wanted to know who was not being patriotic by dare I say it...thinking (what a novel idea). Years later those votes came back to haunt both parties during the last election cycle (especially Hillary Clinton).
Wilson's blatant disrespect, however, is deep. Yes he apologized but that apology is as worthless as the apology Congress issued for the institution of slavery. It means nothing. No action is taken. No retribution given. There is no remorse, just empty words. And just like the Congress, Mr. Wilson can keep his apology. He needs to be reprimanded and disciplined. I would even entertain him loosing his seat. His supporters (a la Rush Limbaugh among others) will argue that Wilson's actions hearken back to Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" oration. Most of these clowns would love for you to think that.
The reality is that Rep. Wilson’s actions last night fall more in line with former Gov. George Wallace's thoughts about segregation or Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts for communists. Actually, I think it is both. Certain segments of the American population do not want progress if an African American will usher it in, even if it means that it will help them enjoy a better standard of living. The liquor of white privilege is just that intoxicating.
Worse still, Wilson's actions totally throw out any argument Bush supporters had about respecting the executive office in America. That was their line for all criticisms of Bush. "You don't have to agree, but you must respect the office." In all of my study of American History, I have NEVER and I mean NEVER heard of anyone interrupting or heckling the President of the United States while addressing the legislative branch of our government. The last time I saw anything close to that it was the Iraqi journalist who threw the shoes at President Bush. We all know what happened to him. This is just more of the same white backlash to a black man being in the oval office.
Let us be clear, racism is alive and well and here to stay. Any ultra left leaning persons who thought that President Obama would wash their hands of slavery and if nothing else create a post-racial watershed moment are sadly mistaken. No more tip-toeing around the subject, we all know that even as much as folk hated "Dub-ya" he NEVER got that type of disrespect in the chambers of Congress.
As I listened to the heckling again and seriously thought about it, the utter insolence reminds me of the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney coldly remarked in his opinion of the case that African Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." While we are not dealing with the issue of slavery, we still engage the vestiges of the institution. The Republicans now are as desperate as their Southern Democrat forefathers were in 1865, and are willing to do anything to stop any type of progress by their opposition. They are willing to denigrate the audacity of hope, to the audacity of ignorance, as Mr. Wilson so callously displayed.