The debate over health-care reform has obviously struck a nerve. Emotions are frayed and folks across the nation are losing their composure — as well as their tempers.
That was evident this summer as members of Congress crisscrossed the nation to talk to their constituents about the proposed health-care reforms. Many of these town hall meetings became extremely heated. A few were reported to have gotten out of control with people yelling and screaming at the members of Congress and each other.
While the flare-ups at these meetings are unfortunate, we can understand how emotion can at times overwhelm people.
But last week’s outburst by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., isn’t as easy to excuse. We expect better of our elected officials, particularly the 535 people elected as members of Congress to write our laws.
The incident occurred Wednesday as President Obama offered his views on health-care reform in an address to Congress. Wilson’s outburst came after Obama said extending health-care coverage to all Americans wouldn’t result in insuring illegal immigrants.
"You lie!" Wilson shouted from his seat in the House chamber.
Such behavior is simply unacceptable in the Capitol (or, frankly, anywhere else).
Wilson, to his credit, quickly and appropriately apologized for his lapse in judgment.
"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me," Wilson said in a statement. "While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
He also made an effort to call Obama and make a personal apology, but he was put through to the president’s chief of staff.
The sincere apology was a good start to putting an end to this surge in incivility.
Republicans joined Democrats in denouncing the behavior.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, called Wilson’s behavior "totally disrespectful," adding, "There is no place for it in that setting, or any other."
Given the outrage in Congress over Wilson’s outburst, it’s unlikely this scene will be repeated.
Issues can be debated with passion while remaining civil.
That holds true in Congress and at town hall meetings.
The debate over health care is critically important to this nation. It must be conducted with respect and civility.
Let’s hope Rep. Wilson’s ugly outburst was the wake-up call that helps make political discourse in this country less vitriolic.
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