Tom Foreman | Bio
After weeks of angry folks with pitchforks storming town hall meetings on health care, it is not surprising to see a hint of anarchy burst like a firecracker in the middle of President Obama’s big speech. There he was talking about how he won’t cover illegal immigrants when suddenly South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, to borrow from Paddy Chayefsky, was saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Actually, he said, “You lie!”
Let’s put aside for a minute that the actual bills suggest he was mistaken, and the president was right. Let’s step around the obvious breach of decorum; this is, after all, not the Taiwanese Parliament where a simple motion for recess can mean taping on the gloves and pulling on your Everlast trunks. Let’s even ignore the fact that the Congressman apologized almost immediately.
We still have a question: Why does this President evoke such fierce feelings?
Some people insist it’s because he is black. “It’s just racism,” they say. Others respond indignantly, “He was elected by vast numbers of white people. Are you going to pull that out every time his policies are challenged?”
Others argue that after running with a centrist, bi-partisan message he is veering hard into liberal-land, leaving even some supporters feeling “betrayed.” That’s a loaded word even among battle-hardened politicos.
And still others say he is simply trying too aggressively to bring sweeping change to a town that never really wants it, so voters and their Representatives are striking back.
Having listened to an awful lot of voters over the past month or so, I think each of these notions is a little right, but more…incomplete. There is a forest lurking among these trees. I’ve talked to disaffected Republicans, Independents, and Democrats; conservatives, liberals, and moderates; blacks, whites, and everyone else. Each group has people who oppose the president’s plans for different reasons.
What they all have in common is that they feel as if they are being ignored; that when they politely try to discuss the issue, the White House is blowing them off. The President and his defenders say they have tried valiantly to include, even accommodate, the opposition, but many voters just don’t believe it. None of this excuses the Congressman’s behavior or the collapse of professionalism and civility on both sides of the political aisle. But it is still a problem for the president.
A historian once wrote that the cause of every revolution is a ruler who won’t hear the complaints of the ruled. That doesn’t mean the ruler must agree with the disgruntled masses, but they must know they are being heard…or the shouting will only grow louder.
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