Wednesday, September 16, 2009

1984 anyone?

Ever wondered how to insult the President of the United States by the book? Well Dem Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York has a handy rule book of what is allowed and what is not allowed to be said by your representative in Congress. From Politico:

House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has released a helpful, updated primer for members regarding their conduct on the floor and in committees.

Especially useful: The section on how to properly insult the executive branch in the in the chamber.

"Disgrace" and "nitwits" -- okay.

"Liar" or "sexual misconduct" -- ixnay.

Under section 370 of the House Rules and Manual it has been held that a Member could:

• refer to the government as “something hated, something oppressive.”
• refer to the President as “using legislative or judicial pork.”
• refer to a Presidential message as a “disgrace to the country.”
• refer to unnamed officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs.”

Likewise, it has been held that a member could not:

• call the President a “liar.”
• call the President a “hypocrite.”
• describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
• charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
• refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
• refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”

Now you may be thinking along the same lines as I was before I read this: Isn't O.K. via the 1st Amendment to the Constitution to say whatever you like about the President (as long as you don't make a threat against his life)? Hasn't the opposition party throughout the course of history said very nasty things about the President? If you go back to the W administration, democrats not only booed W during a joint session of congress they called him a liar, compared him to Hitler and repeatedly made extremely derogatory statements about him personally and about his policies. Republicans did the same against Clinton with the sex scandal, Democrats against Reagan during Iran-Contra, Republicans against Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis, Democrats against Nixon during Watergate and the list goes on.

So I beg the question why is it now so important that our representatives to congress be muzzled when they speak out against President Obama?

Now if you missed it, during a suspect and unusually timed address to a joint session of Congress about Obama's health care plan, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouted "You Liar" at the President regarding, well quite frankly a lie, or misrepresentation of the truth about Obama's plan.

On Tuesday the House formally reprimanded Congressman Wilson for his outburst. And following this reprimand Slaughter issued her updated rule sheet about what is and is not allowed in the oh so hallowed halls of Congress.

I will be the first to say that in floor debate and while listening to the President speak our representatives should maintain a sense of decorum to facilitate open and honest debate concerning the issues of the day. And Joe Wilson immediately agreed to this as he instantly apologized for his inappropriately timed outburst.

But to muzzle our congressman by telling them what they are allowed to say and not allowed to say is essentially muzzling you and I. Joe Wilson was elected in November of 2008 to represent the people of his district in Congress. Obama chose to address Congress he chose to go before a body representing the people of South Carolina and the United States. A number of whom I suspect agree that Obama was misrepresenting the truth when he spoke about health care. Therefore Joe Wilson was expressing that outrage directly to the President.

Our founding fathers put in place a system whereby our elected representatives in Congress have as much say as our President and a system where our president is not the sole voice of authority. They wanted us to question the government and question the president in whatever manner deemed necessary to maintain the union.

If any Congressman believes that the actions of the President are "intellectually dishonest" I want my representative to 'call him out.' And not be afraid of censure for doing so.

Now I understand that these House Rules for our representatives are not law and therefore not illegal under the 1st Amendment. But I for one believe this is a slippery slope towards banning what you and I can say about our elected leaders. And a slippery slope toward undermining our rights as Americans. (And yes I use the term Americans referring to people of the US not people of north, south and central America as the language police would like me to refer).

On a day-to-day basis it may not seem like our democracy is being eroded, but once you begin attacking our basic rights like speech, we shall soon all find ourselves in a state where we enjoy very few of the freedoms we once took for granted, and as President Ronald Reagan once said, "Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. Those who have known freedom and then lost it, have never known it again."

So keep a keen eye out in the future because though it may seem trivial to the average American, once it becomes O.K. to ban criticism of the executive branch, more and more freedoms will be banned for one reason or another.

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