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Joe Wilson's heckling: a missed opportunity for Obama?

September 10, 2009 | 11:54 am
Joe Wilson 240 Pundits expressed childlike astonishment over GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's heckling of Barack Obama during the president's speech to Congress Wednesday night on healthcare reform. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said the comments by the South Carolina Republican marked "yet another low" in the healthcare debate, a rote observation that will doubtless be made again in the future.

Wilson's outburst to Obama -- "You lie!" -- was beyond the pale, but I'd be lying myself if I said I wasn't entertained, if briefly. I was also disappointed by the president's immediate response to Wilson -- "That's not true" -- in which he passed up a rare chance to directly refute, when he actually had everyone's attention, what he says are the distortions and scare tactics used by opponents of healthcare reform. Instead, the president cordially accepted Wilson's apology after a Cabinet meeting this morning. The president was offered the baseball equivalent of a belt-high fastball tossed to a power hitter, and rather than step back from the teleprompter and swing away, he bunted. 

The catcalls at the speech reminded me of the regular debates held in Great Britain's House of Commons, the U.K. equivalent of our House of Representatives that Robin Williams once quipped is "like Congress with a two-drink minimum." C-SPAN occasionally broadcasts proceedings of the British House, during which the prime minister regularly faces a grilling (heckling included) by members of Parliament; I recommend you tune in when you can. Beyond the entertainment value, it's refreshing to watch a government's highest official regularly answer for his policies, a sharp contrast to the cocoon from which our presidents only occasionally emerge to engage the public. One can only imagine how public opinion may have been influenced in the run-up to the Iraq war if President Bush had to be called to the mat regularly over his administration's case for an invasion.

Below is a sample of a House of Commons debate. There's heckling, shouting and more, but forcing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to actually actually stand in front of his opponents and defend his government's actions and policies combines accountability with old-fashioned entertainment. Makes you think more Americans would pay regular attention to lawmaking if we even somewhat resembled our British friends.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo credit: AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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