Friday, September 11, 2009

Taipan Daily: "You Lie!" The Merits of Uncivil Discourse

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Friday, September 11, 2009
Taipan Daily: "You Lie!" The Merits of Uncivil Discourse
by Justice Litle, Editorial Director, Taipan Publishing Group

Before delving into today’s topic, a quick reader inquiry:

I just finished reading Web of Debt. Are there any good arguments as to why the money power should be of the bankers, by the bankers and for the bankers? Does not the Constitution imply that this power resides with Congress?
 – TD Reader Barbara J.

The trouble is that Congress doesn’t actually want “the money power,” as you put it, because holding such power would imply direct responsibility.

If Congress had the means to raise or lower interest rates (or otherwise directly impact the money supply), then politicians would have to take blame for the state of the economy. They would not be able to point fingers, play dumb, or otherwise shift blame to a third party (the Federal Reserve) when so desired.

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As it stands now, the Federal Reserve Chairman’s role as “Daddy” lets Congress play the role of spoiled teenager. This useful bit of kabuki theatre lets the pols spend money with wild abandon, figuring “Daddy” is the one equipped to handle the consequences.

Another problem with enabling Congress is that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” It is hard to imagine Republicans and Democrats steering an ice cream truck, let alone a coherent monetary policy. (Some want to give the gold standard another try, but that’s a different topic.)

Sadly, Washington is not a sober and serious place. It is a veritable beer-soaked frat house of back-scratching, populism-swilling, pork-grabbing bacchanalia... and that’s on a good day.

Which brings us back around to today’s missive. Is America suffering from a lack of civility when it comes to political discourse? Or is it just the opposite?

“You Lie!!!”

The question comes to mind in light of the latest outrage – outrage! – regarding the conduct of South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson.

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As you have probably heard, during President Obama’s healthcare speech Wednesday night, Representative Wilson felt moved to let loose a vocal outburst. Specifically, Wilson shouted “You Lie!” when the POTUS said his healthcare plan would not mean insuring illegal immigrants.

The backlash was immediate and sharp. Republicans “froze,” the AP reports. House Speaker Pelosi shot off a “fierce frown.” The first lady shook her head, the Veep looked down, and President Obama said “That’s not true” before stoically soldiering on.

The controversy soon boiled over. Senator John McCain (he who challenged Mr. Obama in the last election) called the outburst “totally disrespectful,” adding that "there is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately."

Meanwhile, Representative Wilson’s Web site crashed... his Twitter account was deluged... and the beleaguered pol's 2010 opponent, Democrat Rob Miller, reportedly raised $100,000 within hours of the event.

Not Like England

Given the circumstances and the standard etiquette, Mr. Wilson was clearly out of line. If the shout was a political ploy – didn’t everyone get a copy of the speech beforehand? – then it appears to have backfired big time.

But still, Taipan Daily can’t help but wonder... should such outbursts be automatically considered “out of line?” Should the commander in chief be accorded such automatic deference, civility and decorum?

America has imported a number of old traditions from merry old England. But this demand for civility certainly isn’t one of them...

In British Parliament, the general mood is “anything goes.” If the Prime Minister says something especially foolish, he is not spared from the jeers... and might even be lucky not to have a tomato thrown at him. Were Joe Wilson to have shouted his words across the pond, one wonders if they would have made the six o'clock news.

If you don’t believe me, check out this reel of British Parliament footage from Dec. 10, 2008. (Keep in mind that this session took place in the heat of the global financial crisis as world markets melted down.)

Here is a rough transcript of the opening exchange:

Opposition Leader David Cameron: ...To ensure the flow of lending to the real economy can continue at normal rates. Does the Prime Minister accept that on those terms his recapitalization has failed, and when is he going to change it?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (against growing background noise): Mr. Speaker, the first point of recapitalization was to save banks that would otherwise have collapsed. And we not only saved the world – eh, saved the banks –

Opposition Members of Parliament: HA HA HA HA HA....

Prime Minister Gordon Brown (raising his voice to be heard): Saved – saved the banks and led the way –

Opposition Members of Parliament: BOOOOOOOO...

Not much for decorum, eh? It really is a remarkable sight... that’s just the way they do things over there.

Your humble editor was exposed to the “British” debating style during his time at Oxford. One might imagine the Oxford Student Union to be a staid, stuffy place. But no – the student debate forums, held in the presence of distinguished guest speakers, are as full of rhetoric and jeer and insult as anything one might find in a rowdy pub.

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This suggestion – that maybe Britain has the better idea – has nothing to do with the fact that a Democrat is president.

After all, can you imagine how differently things might have gone... and how much better they might have gone... if President George W. Bush had been forced to defend himself on his feet?

“You’re working hard to put food on your family” – how might an unleashed Congress have responded to that?

Better still, the entertainment-starved American public might well have been inspired to actually pay attention had Washington embraced the Brit equivalent of political food fight. “W” could have been the new entertainment, right up there with American Idol... and Americans might have noticed what was happening to the country in result.

Sad to say, it’s not as if we can just do a culture transplant on Capitol Hill. Unlike the U.K., Washington has long embraced a respectful tone when it comes to engaging our leaders.

But one has to ask... do they really deserve it? Look at the fraud and chicanery and outright buffoonery Congress has perpetrated on America. Look at what the executive branch has done, under leadership both Democrat AND Republican.

When it comes to politics overall, just look where civility has gotten us.

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The Virtues of Bluntness

It is no coincidence that dictators tend to have zero sense of humor. Satire plays an important (if not vital) role in healthy political life. To laugh at a bad idea – to gleefully point out its flaws – is to take a step towards setting things right, or at least making the citizenry more aware.

And if our politicians are going to act like clowns, your humble editor submits, then why shouldn’t we treat them as such. Or at least expose them to a little bit more raw inquiry than they are used to.

Why shouldn’t the leader of the free world be prepared to answer aggressive on-the-spot questions, for example, without use of a teleprompter? And what’s more, why shouldn’t that leader be given the chance to answer back just as aggressively?

After all, two can play the verbal jousting game. If a policy is sound... if an idea is logical and possessed of merit... then why can’t it be – why shouldn’t it be – defended against vigorous challenge in an open forum?

That’s another problem with the cloak of civility and decorum. It is often used to disguise a lack of true preparedness, a lack of real thought. Think how wary politicians are of facing each other in unscripted debate forums during election season – then overlay that basic caution with a heaping helping of laziness and corruption in day-to-day political life.

America would certainly give something up if we chose to kick it England-style. The patina of pomp and circumstance surrounding the commander in chief might never recover – and this, in turn, might make it a little harder for America to tend the far-flung corners of empire.

But would it really be so much of a loss, if the gain were forcing the clowns in Congress to reveal their true mettle (and true worth) on a regular basis?

In other words: Should civility reign for the sake of morality and tradition, or is it high time we put aside false decorum and started demanding that our representatives “tell it like it is?” Feel free to express your uncivil opinion here:

Warm Regards,


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