Critical Condition

Make September the New August: Tips for Rep. Wilson & Other Obama Critics

Like Jay Nordlinger, I “read” the president’s speech on a muted TV (at a bar in Sausalito, where the bartender wasn’t too happy about switching over from the US Open on ESPN2). And I only did that because I got a last minute call from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation inviting me to join a panel discussion on their national radio broadcast about 45 minutes after the speech finished. I had hoped to be able to watch the tennis and read the speech later, on my computer at home.

So, I also had a different experience than those who heard the Republicans grumbling, and Congressman Wilson call out, “You lie.” It looks like the consensus over on The Corner is that Mr. Wilson was way out of line. As Kathryn Jean Lopez points out, it’s not the House of Commons. (If it were the House of Commons, the jab would have been much more subtle. In Westminster, Ottawa, or Canberra, the usual challenge to misrepresentation is simply: “shame, shame.”)

Nevertheless, opponents of the federal take-over of Americans’ access to medical services are concerned that the president’s faction will seize the initiative again, simply because they are back on their turf: Washington, D.C.

Maybe folks like Representative Wilson long for the salad days of August, when you could “debate” health reform by simply by strapping a pistol to your hip, picking up a sign of the president wearing a swastika-armband, and strolling down to the high-school gym to shout at ACORN activists and union organizers.

Look, I wax as nostalgic for those town-hall days as much as anyone, having delivered a few bons mots from behind a microphone while tea-bags were waving around me.

But they don’t have to die, just because we ripped a page off the calendar, or Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid called the inmates back to their cells.

My point here is that Mr. Wilson and his colleagues didn’t have to sit there listening to the speech (which was an inappropriate use of presidential privilege; I think the president should really only make these speeches during times of national emergency, like war.). Mr. Wilson (and other legislators of similar disposition) would have served the public interest better by hosting a town hall back home instead, watching the speech on TV, and then moderating a discussion in response.

That’s really the only way to preserve the summer’s honest, open conversation about the consequences of this proposal. If we allow Congress and the White House to get back to “business as usual,” the take-over will proceed.

— John R. Graham is director of Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.