Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst ("You lie!") during President Obama's speech to the joint session of Congress this week was extremely inappropriate by any standard, and in my opinion, such conduct should be reprimanded in some manner. Even if the president was George W. Bush, and the congressman was somebody who I normally liked, there is no excuse for that kind of extreme rudeness on the part of our high government officials. The president is both head of government and head of state (kind of like the combination of temporary monarch plus prime minister). To some extent, I believe in the idea of respecting the office, even if not the office holder. I am not trying to legislate my idea of good taste. People who know me personally know that legislating "good taste" is just about the last thing in the world I would want to do. Hate mongers such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have the legal right to carry on with their rants about Obama supposedly being a racist, or drawing idiotic comparisons to Hitler. Limbaugh and Beck have counterparts on the left who engage in similar over-the-top verbal attacks against so-called conservative leaders. In spite of the LEGAL rights of these people, which I have no intention of curtailing, I do think that it is reasonable to expect some degree of decorum by our elected officials. Joe Wilson clearly violated that principle. He can think whatever he wants, and if he privately trashes the president while talking with friends/family/congressional staff, I do not think that is a big deal. Within the halls of Congress, I expect better behavior by our esteemed representatives. Actually, I kind of wondered if Mr. Wilson was tempted to throw his shoes at the president. Maybe he was too far away to get a good shot, or maybe he did not want to lose a perfectly good pair of shoes. Mr. Wilson did apologize privately to Mr. Obama, and the president graciously accepted the apology. Then again, it also appears that Mr. Wilson's apology was very half-hearted, and he has indicated that he meant what he said. I think he also owes an apology to Congress, because his outburst is (or should be) an embarrassment to Congress as a whole.
The irony in all this is that Mr. Wilson's chosen moment to accuse the president of lying was in a context where the president was certainly not lying. This was over the question of whether or not the federal government would be forced to include illegal immigrants in its "universal" coverage. Some of the scare mongers make this claim, but it is not true, according to any of the pending bills in Congress, and President Obama made this clear. "You lie" was the shouted out response by Joe Wilson. Besides being in such poor taste, Mr. Wilson is also objectively wrong. I could even say that Wilson is the one who is lying.
One claim made by President Obama that I do find hard to believe is that passage of his proposals will not add to the government's deficit. While I would certainly not suggest that he is lying, I think it is fair to suggest that he is quite possibly being overly optimistic. The truth is that we cannot know with certainty what the effect on future government finances will be as a result of Obama's proposed health care reforms becoming law. I hope that he is right, that we can achieve all these desirable health care goals in a budget-neutral way. I believe that this is not very likely, and I know that nobody in the White House can say with perfect knowledge that this will not add to future deficits.
To take an example from recent history, recall that President George W. Bush assured us all back in 2001 that the budget surplus that he inherited was so structurally solid that his major tax cut legislation would, at most, merely reduce future suplusses by half. Mr. Bush and his top economic advisors were absolutely certain of this, and to emphasize the point further, he said that all this even provided for an economic downturn plus some other as-yet-unknown crisis (today is September 11; I am trying to think of what kind of unknown crisis they might have contemplated in the early summer of 2001). We all know how that turned out, don't we? The point is not that Mr. Bush was lying in his belief that the government would continue to be in fiscal surplus for years to come, but rather that he had no legitimate basis for his tone of apparent certainty. Maybe Obama has better economists than his predecessor did, and maybe their analysis is carried out with greater objectivity. Maybe, but not to the point where I am likely to believe any statements of apparent certainty about the long term future of government finances.
Despite the unfounded hysteria (regarding alleged death panels, illegal immigrants, required abortion services, etc.) about the health care reform proposals, there are legitimate concerns regarding how the program will be paid for. I want to see President Obama meet the issue more forthrightly than I believe he has up to now. For many reasons, I am rooting for health care reform to succeed, but I do not personally believe the program is likely to be neutral on the budget. Hey, I like President Obama. I strongly supported him in his campaign, and I generally give him favorable marks on his performance during his first several months as president. If a supporter such as yours truly does not believe his proposals will not add to the deficit, what must the opponents be thinking? On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, very few of those in Congress who now emphasize the fiscal concerns with health care reform in 2009 expressed any skepticism in 2001 when they were told by Mr. Bush that his tax cuts would not lead to budget deficits. Call them partisan hypocrites if you want to, but the issue is still a matter of legitimate concern.