MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
That was, after all, the point of
President Obama addressing the joint session of Congress two weeks
ago—to move his campaign for health care reform forward. But after
Wilson shouted his now famous “You lie” invective at Obama, Congress
was beginning to sound like a bar with two televisions, one playing Fox
News and the other MSNBC. Each time one-half of the crowd turned up the
volume, the other dutifully hammered on their remote, raising the noise
level and ensuring that no one could understand anything.
The debate was not only getting nasty, but it was ceasing to resemble a debate.
Amid the wrangling over whether the
previously unheard of Joe Wilson should be reprimanded or knighted, a
voice from Central New York was heard. First-term Rep. Dan Maffei
(D-DeWitt) stepped above the fray and said something that made a lot of
sense. Maffei’s office released the following statement:
“It does not promote civility to have a
party line vote and spend an afternoon debating whether Mr. Wilson’s
apology for what he said during the President’s address last week is
‘good enough.’ Clearly, Mr. Wilson thoroughly embarrassed himself. And
while I disagree with Mr. Wilson and I strongly support the President,
I think we should be moving on and not piling on. As Voltaire wrote, ‘I
disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right
to say it.’ We all agree Mr. Wilson’s behavior was inappropriate, now
it is time to get back to work.”
Back to work. There’s a concept. Maffei
voted against the resolution to censure the loudmouth from South
Carolina, perhaps stretching Voltaire’s notion of tolerance, but
refusing to let the Wilson sideshow take the place of the main event.
The people of Central New York did not send Maffei to Washington to
censure Joe Wilson; we sent him to represent us in an institution that
too many feel has come to represent only the worst in us.
On the day that the House of
Representatives took up the issue of what to do with Wilson, 17,000
Americans lost their health care insurance. Sure, Wilson was a jerk.
But he has health insurance. The spotlight needs to be on those of us
who do not. That Maffei broke with some of the leaders of his own party
should be a sign of hope to us, and an example to the rest of the
There is undoubtedly a desire in the
country for bipartisan cooperation. But that cooperation has to be
based on principles and a meeting of the minds. It’s legitimate to
argue about whether you think a public option is necessary to ensure
that sick people can go to the doctor. It is a waste of time to be
scoring points either attacking or defending someone who has no place
at the center of this important discussion. Leave that to the barrooms
and the cable chatterboxes.
While partisan rancor seems to be the
law of the land, Central New York Democrats and Republicans can both
take some pride in the example we have set this past month. In the same
week that Maffei declined to pile on Mr. Wilson, John McHugh was
confirmed and sworn in as secretary of the Army. A northern New York
Republican congressman vacates a safe seat in order to serve his
country under a Democratic commander-in-chief. And we don’t have to
look too far back to remember Jim Walsh, when he represented us in the
House, playing an important role in the Irish peace process through
both Republican and Democratic administrations.
It will be up to the good people of
South Carolina to censure Mr. Wilson when he comes up for re-election
next year. If they decide that his brand of incivility truly represents
who they are, well, shame on them. It’s up to us to let Maffei know
that we appreciate it when he puts common sense above party loyalty.
Each time a representative steps away from the partisan precipice, they
need all the support they can get.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary each week in The New Times.