Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Repudiation of Rep. Joe Wilson

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has introduced a resolution disapproving of Rep. Wilson's outburst during the President's speech to a joint Congressional session last week. The text of the Wilson Resolution reads:
Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of
decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of
the House:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

In anticipation of the Wilson Resolution, RNC Chairman Michael Steele released this statement:

[C]ongressional Democrats are wasting taxpayers’ time and resources . . . so they don’t have to talk about their exceedingly unpopular health care plan . . . .

If we are going to march members down to the well of the House to apologize, Joe Wilson is going to have to get in line behind Nancy Pelosi, who attacked the intelligence community who protects us, Charlie Rangel who cheated on his taxes, Jack Murtha – a walking scandal, and we all know how the Democratic leadership tried to protect William Jefferson.

Steele's statement is of course nonsense. Not only is the healthcare reform not unpopular - it is, as Nate Silver pointed out yesterday, at best a matter of confusion for the American people - none of the individuals he mentioned embarrassed the House of Representatives - and in doing so, violated House rules - with such a grave breech of decorum as Rep. Wilson did last Wednesday. If any of those individuals have violated House rules it is up to the House to punish them, as it is doing with Rep. Wilson, and as it has done in the past.


Colin said...

I'll defer to the less than rabidly right-wing Seattle Times on this one:


Ben said...

Link doesn't seem to work.

Colin said...

Hmm, I tried again and it works for me. In any case here it is:

Democratic overkill over Rep. Joe Wilson's foolish eruption

POLITICAL parties in power often overreach. So it was Tuesday when the U.S. House led by the Democrats passed an unnecessary and partisan resolution of disapproval against Rep. Joe Wilson.

Yes, the South Carolina Republican who yelled "You lie" during President Obama's health-care speech last week is an ill-mannered individual. He rudely interrupted the president, embarrassed Congress and made a fool of himself on the national stage.

Wilson promptly apologized to Obama and the president accepted the apology. Wilson revealed his bad manners and lack of self-control. Voters of the Palmetto State should take his poor judgment into serious account in next year's congressional race because he also tarnished the reputation of South Carolina, which is not having a good year in politics.

House Democratic leaders correctly note Wilson violated the decorum and integrity of the House. He did indeed. But one apology should cover it. The rest is grandstanding.

Technically, a disapproval resolution is less severe than more common rebukes of reprimand, censure and expulsion, but proceeding with the resolution amounts to overkill. Having a tool that allows Congress to publicly scold a member doesn't mean it makes sense to use it. Withholding a punishment can be more powerful than administering it.

Democrats are overreacting to their good fortune: a Republican making a fool of himself. The more dignified response would have been restraint.

Just because a loudmouthed congressman served up a dud doesn't mean the House should spend valuable time "disapproving" him. The health-care debate looms.

Democrats had the upper hand but with their shortsighted and ultimately useless resolution yielded it to the impolite representative from South Carolina.

Ben said...

That's about what I expected. Clearly the Seattle Times can only see the partisan dimension of politics. Fortunately, US history does not share the Times' myopia. The history of the federal government, and of the houses of Congress in particular, is itself a disertation on the role of institutions and institutional values. The House's reaction to Rep. Wilson was appropriate - it was even, in my opinion, restrained. It should not have been a partisan vote. No, the Republican members of the House should have recognized their responsibility to their institution and defended it against an assault like that of Rep. Wilson. Instead, many House Republicans have continued the tradition they've staked out over the last decade of abrogating institutional responsibility in favor of unadulturated and wrong-headed partisanship - during the Bush years this was evidenced by their abrogation of oversight responsibilities in favor of prostrated deference to the White House. Here, it is evidenced by their standing in line with a man who has violated the rules of their body, and defiled their institution.

Colin said...

Well, I start from the perspective that Congress is an institution that defiles itself on a fairly regular basis, so I don't hold it in great esteem in the first place. Aside from those cited by Steele, you could also throw in the Jack Abramoff scandal, Mark Foley trying to get in the pants of teenagers, the House banking scandal, the House post office scandal, the Keating Five, etc. All of those in my opinion make Wilson's idiotic outburst pale in comparison.

Now we are treated to watching the same Congress that allows Rep. Rangel to remain in his position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee despite numerous ethics complaints against him -- with even the NY Times editorializing for his removal -- rise in quick condemnation of Wilson for his conduct. The self-righteousness of the House leadership is a bit much.

You're absolutely correct, however, about the GOP Congress's lack of oversight during the Bush Administration. I would attribute that more to them being politicians than Republicans, however. If Democrats hold the Obama White House's feet to the fire -- assuming they maintain their majority -- I will be extremely surprised.