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Politics & Power

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Should We Expect Better Behavior From Our Elected Officials?

In a largely party-line vote the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 744 on Tuesday rebuking the outburst of South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson during President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress on September 8th. Wilson shouted "You lie" during the President’s speech about healthcare and was widely condemned initially from both sides of the aisle for the breach of decorum. As the week progressed Republicans backed off on their condemnation and closed ranks around him after it became clear that some voters supported the outburst. Democrats who had been more gracious in the beginning because Wilson quickly called the White House to apologize to the President also saw the opportunity to achieve political gains and ultimately politicized the issue to their own ends as well.

Wilson and his opponent Rob Miller in the upcoming race for Congress have both raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their campaigns in the week following the episode with the fundraising being driven by the controversy the outburst and reaction to it has stirred. What might have been a simple incident quickly moved past by mature statesmen became a political spectacle and a chance for both Republicans and Democrats to grandstand and make political hay. The culmination of the political sideshow came in a House vote on a resolution (HR 744) to officially chastise Wilson for his breach of House rules. After much debate about the necessity of the resolution in the House to condemn Wilson’s action the final vote was 240-179 with 5 members voting present and 10 members not voting at all. Of the 240 votes for the resolution 7 were from Republicans and of the 179 votes against 12 were Democrats.

By most accounts the entire vote could have been avoided if Representative Wilson had gone to the floor of the House and simply apologized for violating the rules of the House. He refused to do so and the political melee ensued. The larger question that this issue raises is what we should or should not be willing to accept in the behavior of our elected officials. There is a tradition of the U.S. House of Representative and U.S. Senate being houses of government with strict rules of conduct and dignified debate. Has the time come to reexamine the value of the rigidity of the rules of Congress? Perhaps it’s time to just relax the rules and allow people to say what’s on their mind at any time without regard for decorum? How important is the dignity of our government to the American people?

In our modern society civility seems to be becoming a quaint notion of the past for many people. The recent outburst by Kanye West at the MTV Music Awards during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, Serena Williams threatening to shove a ball down a judges throat during a tennis match, Michael Jordan’s classless acceptance speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony and tone of town hall meetings about healthcare reform during August highlight a growing trend of social graces being left by the wayside in favor of instant personal gratification. Are we beginning to be willing as a nation to abandon the once civil nature of our society or is this current lack of civility simply a product of stressful times in our nation? Can we expect our leaders to maintain civility when we as a society are increasingly incapable of doing so?

It seems that our leaders are a reflection of our society. As we have become less civil and polite so too have our leaders. From Dick Cheney’s infamous “F-bomb” to Joe Wilson’s outburst during the President’s speech the climate in Washington has become increasingly divisive over the last several years. In that same time period our economy has declined, unemployment has risen and Americans have seen the systematic dismantling of the manufacturing sector, once the foundation of our economy. The American people are on edge and it is seemingly reflected in the behavior in the people we elect to lead us. Could it be that the decline in civility is also feeding the decline of our economy? With people increasingly willing to dig in their heels and fight doggedly for what they want are we losing the ability to find progress through political compromise?

President John Adams once said "Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases." Over 200 years ago he recognized the need to have leaders that reflect the best of our society because they hold such great power. As we see the decline of civility in not only our streets but in the halls of power it should be cause for concern. Every year we see more scandals and less decorum in Washington. At the same time we see the steep decline of the standard of living in our country. Perhaps the two are related and perhaps they are not but can we afford to risk our futures by allowing our leaders to continue to let their demagoguery get in the way of our business? If we continue to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior or worse yet reward it, we are saying that we accept the decay of civility in our society. Much like blight in our inner city neighborhoods, if we allow the social decay to take root it becomes very difficult to get rid of it.

I for one applaud the public condemnation of any breach of civility, especially when one of our leaders is involved. They are supposed to represent the best of our society, not the worst. We as a nation need to find our pride again and stop accepting the uncivil outbursts of rude blowhards in the public arena. Kanye West needs to stop being an ass, Michael Jordan needs to get over himself, Joe Wilson does owe both houses of Congress an apology for his wholly inappropriate outburst during the joint session and all the other people acting like fools in public should be shunned for their idiotic antics. We deserve better than to be constantly bombarded with rude behavior from people in the public eye. The loudmouths, demagogues and scene-stealers should take a page from Beyonce Knowles’ book. They need to stop acting like jackasses and demonstrate some class once in a while. How do we expect our children to maintain a civilization after we're gone if their "role models" can’t even show them examples of civility?

Troy Wilson-Ripsom - Staff Writer| Give your feedback on this article. | Click icon to Digg this article

Get Involved

Do you sit and yell at the TV when politicians come on? Do you shake your head sadly whenever you see a homeless veteran? Is that all you tend to do?

It's time to put up or shut up America. We all love to talk about how we could do things better or how we would do it if we were in charge. Well, it's time to put your money where your mouth is. If you can think of it, you can write it down. If you can write it down, you can type it. If you can type it, you can e-mail it and if you can e-mail it, you can send it here.

We at Reform America are committed to giving voice to anyone who wants to put their ideas out there to make our nation a better place. As the readership grows, we are able to take those views to a wider and wider audience. Grassroots campaigns begin with voices speaking out. You have opinions. Voice them. We aren't about conservative or liberal. We aren't about pro-this or anti-that. We're about Americans and the First Amendment. Reform America is about politics by, for and of the people. You are the people. You only need to speak up. America is listening. Send your article to:

Have You Been Downsized Due to Outsourcing?

For several years now we have listened to some within the business community tell us that America can't compete on a global scale unless they send our jobs overseas where they can be done cheaper. The question becomes, if we don't have good paying jobs here, how can we sustain our own economy? We want to hear from you. Have you lost your job? Have you been forced into a lower wage job due to outsourcing? Has outsourcing been a success for you? Did you end up in a better job?

Tell us your story so we can make sure the politicians see how outsourcing really impacts the workers who are backbone of America. Send your story to

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