The XX Factor

When Is It OK to Insult the President? How About When He’s Done Speaking to Congress and the Nation.

Amen, Emily, the “lurking discomfort, in some kitchens out there, with having an African-American president ,” that you speak of is no longer lurking, and it certainly has moved out of the kitchen and into the open. And it’s getting full-throated endorsement and encouragement from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and all the other Obama-haters out there. Glenn Beck, of all people, called President Obama a racist. As laughable as that accusation was, it was an excuse for all the real racists, including Beck and his cohort, to go on the attack against President Obama in very personal, racially coded ways. It’s no wonder that death threats against Pres. Obama are up 400 percent.

It’s interesting how the views of certain opponents of health care reform and of President Obama’s recent speech to school children mesh with those from the birther movement. No matter what he says or does, it is seen as a sinister plot by an illegitimate black president designed to take away the long-cherished rights of good, law-abiding white Americans. For proof, just listen to some of the language used and read the signs that were held at anti-Obama rallies masquerading as healthcare reform rallies.

When I wrote about this issue early this week , I was not the least bit surprised by the level of a hate-filled, racist, invective I received in response.

And Hanna , the president did not call members of Congress liars, individually by name or as a group. He said his health care proposal had been distorted and lied about by opponents, which is true. That’s very different than being heckled by a member of Congress, a former colleague, no less, shouting “You lie!” Even Bill Clinton, whom many of the right-wing bluebloods in Congress also resented because he, like Obama, didn’t have the right pedigree (rich and with politically powerful white male relatives), didn’t get shouted down during speeches to Congress-even when he did lie. And yes, Rachael, presidents are insulted all the time and in various forums , and have been booed at the State of the Union (Bush was not the only one, was he?), but I don’t recall Bush, or any other president, being called a liar while addressing Congress and the nation-even though Bush lied to the American people about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.

And Hanna, as for being disappointed that Rep. Joe Wilson’s stunt “was a spontaneous outburst instead of a genuine, deliberate heckle,” how do we know that it was even spontaneous? I’m sure he has disagreed with past presidents speaking before Congress. Why was able to contain himself then? That half-hearted apology he gave afterwards was a joke: “Last night, I heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and state that my statements were inappropriate. I did.” So essentially he apologized because the Republican Party leadership asked him to, not because he regretted it and wanted to do the right thing.

If the civility shown during joint sessions of Congress and during the State of the Union is tedious and phony, as you say, what’s the alternative? A free-for-all of rudeness? This may be your definition of us finally “arriving” in our level of public discourse, but I personally think we have a long way to go.

There was one silver lining to Wilson’s outburst, however. It has prompted a rush of campaign donations- more than $400,000 in less than 24 hours -to his Democratic opponent. What a costly and poetic ending for putting his foot in his mouth.