This is the way careers end — with a bang and a whimper.
The past week saw the public images of two seemingly irreproachable politicians take hits: Yorba Linda Assemblyman Michael Duvall, whose lewd comments were inadvertently broadcast during a Sacramento meeting, and Rep. Joe Wilson, whose shout of “You lie!” during President Obama’s address on health care has swept across Youtube with proliferations envied by piano-playing cats and talking geckos everywhere.
The former resigned on Thursday amid a storm of cheerfully vindictive backlash, and the latter is currently sitting in the eye of a firestorm of criticism; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a formal apology on the floor, and many others feel that Wilson should be chastised.
The representative, however, possesses a certain decorum-be-damned audacity that Duvall thankfully never assumed; the New York Times reported that he is now asking for campaign contributions in his new position as the vocal opponent to the Democratic health care plan. Wilson has raised more than $700,000 since Obama’s speech, and has spent the time developing a self-aggrandizing image for himself: the martyr who dares to stand up for free speech.
“They want to silence anyone who speaks out against this,” he said with Joan-of-Arc piety in a video posted on his campaign website.
Wilson’s incendiary outburst followed Obama’s assurance that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his new health care plan — an incidentally true statement. The representative’s itchy trigger finger, however, is indicative of a roadblock mentality that threatens to stall much more legislation in the coming year.
The topic of illegal immigration is one that is guaranteed to get people riled up. Wilson has surely gained many supporters for simply falling on one side of the issue’s fence (so to speak) despite the tactless and untimely way in which he voiced his opinions.
Ultimately, however, not only was Wilson’s animosity unfounded, it was unnecessary. The health care issue must be resolved, and piggybacking on catty cause célèbres instead of working toward a solution will only set the nation’s health care back even further.
The fact remains that it is ultimately possible for illegal immigrants to purchase insurance from unsubsidized providers — something that makes Wilson and his cohorts wary of Obama’s plan. But there’s nothing that can be done to change that, and we’d be foolish to waste time and resources policing a crack in the dam. Politicians’ efforts would be better spent coming to a resolution on the health care plan as it is.
This is not the time for a debate about illegal immigration; there will be a time in the near future, and we can only hope that Wilson has come up with some fresher rhetoric by then. But now is the time for as strong a show of nonpartisanship as politicians can muster.
Whether or not Wilson decides to apologize, we can only hope that other politicians realize the futility of argument. In the din of the health care debate, it’s hard to separate reason from emotion. Comments like Wilson’s are merely sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Lucy Mueller is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director and a junior majoring in cinema-television production.