Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Joe Wilson said?!

Representative Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, who shouted out in a joint meeting with the president, "You lie!" has been criticized for violating some code of conduct. Critics are asking that he be held to the same standards as the military, who fall under the president through the chain of command.

I'm a veteran, husband of a military retiree and father of two veterans. My own father was a soldier for 30 years. Consequently, I understand what some people are trying to say about the required respect for the president under the Code of Military Justice. Every military person learns that, regardless of personal feeling or political philosophy, the only proper response to what any president says is a salute and a prompt "Yes, Sir" or a polite objection under extreme circumstances--illegal orders, for example.

However, the rules by which soldiers must live hold no authority over civilians or their elected representatives. The function of the Congress of the United States is derived from parliamentary procedure and anyone who has ever seen any parliament in action will understand why dueling was outlawed. By the world's standards, we have one of the most polite legislative bodies ever known. This was not always the case, just read your history books. In our earlier history members of the government and the congress fought duels over comments made in the heat of the moment.

Unlike military members, senators and congress persons are elected to represent the states and districts where they live. Their job is not to blindly follow any president, but to be an equal partner, with certain rights and restrictions, in establishing our government. The founders intended that no person would become a king and no government would speak with one voice. Even when we are most unified in wartime conditions, there have always been some opposition to the leadership of the country.

In the previous eight years, president Bush was booed and hissed while speaking before congress--in the midst of those boos and hisses were shouts and pejoratives that were often difficult to separate from the overall noise. The only difference between now and then is that Congressman Joe Wilson shouted alone, "You lie!"

The party in power and the press may take exception to what he said. Congress has certainly rebuked him, with nearly all Democrats voting so--forgetting their behavior from the previous year. The fact remains that there is no restriction over speech, under the constitution, not for any citizen nor for any elected representative of the people. Witness the after-speech remarks by opposition members to any presidential initiative in the last few years. In so many words, presidents have been accused of lying and worse. The difference here is that Wilson stood alone to say it directly to the president--even if he later apologized for his rudeness.

What critics don't understand is that Joe Wilson thought he was doing what his district expected him to do--and doing it within the framework of what the constitution allows and the founders intended--because there is no "lese majesty" in American government, for it was never intended that any president presume to be a majesty.

Joe Wilson's real judgment will come when he stands for reelection. Did he speak for the people of his district, or not?


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