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David Cox | WWMS?


You get together with friends for a neighborly supper. Whether fancy or simple, it’s a pleasant evening. Then, while folks are savoring their ham biscuits, two fellow diners get going hot and heavy on some issue or another—politics, religion, or perhaps most controversial of all, local football. One starts yelling at the other, without kidding, “You lie.” Everyone looks at the two of them glaring at each other, fists at the ready. Cooler heads step in. But the evening’s conviviality is no more.

All the worse if the one insulted is the guest of honor.

Ever since Congressman Joseph Wilson of South Carolina used the L word on President Obama who was addressing a joint session of Congress at the time, I’ve been pondering the “WWMS” question: What would Mamma say?

I know what mine would have said were I the liar-caller. First, I apologize to the one I insulted. Then I do the same to my host and hostess for spoiling their event. She also might well have made me express my regret to every single one of the fellow guests, too. She could be that way.

Under duress from the Republican leadership, functioning as mamma-in-residence for the House GOP, Mr. Wilson immediately and appropriately apologized to the President, who immediately, graciously, and appropriately accepted it.

That took care of Apology Part One. But what about others who were offended, in this case the all the Representatives who, with the Senate, had issued the invitation in the first place and thus were the collective hosts of the President of the United States?

Some fellow diners might say of the suppertime altercation, “the other guy had it coming.” Others might say, “I never believe a word he says.” No matter. The near-fight and the name-calling were out of line, inappropriate, and in a word, rude, not just to the other arguer, but to the hosts and, indeed, the whole assemblage.

So was Joe Wilson’s outburst, which his leadership conceded by the very fact they urged him to apologize to the presidential guest of honor.

Still, he owed one to the House. Since he didn’t offer it, which is tacky in itself, the House pushed a resolution (HRes 744) that “disapproves of [his] behavior.” Sadly, though, a matter of common courtesy became partisan, pushed by Democrats and opposed by 96 percent of Republicans. Congressman Goodlatte, went along with his fellow Republicans. (I twice called his office to see what our representative had to say on the matter, but received no response as of presstime.)

How sad, on many levels: first, that such a thing would occur in the “hallowed halls of Congress.” Then, that it come from a scion of the South, which arguably is the last bastion of American manners. Next, how tragic that an alumnus of Washington and Lee, where civility supposedly reigns, honor system and all, should become the Congressional shouter. Then, that courtesy should become a political football.

Then there is the irony that the political party which prides itself on “family values” seemed to disavow one of the most basic of family values, which is common courtesy. How many of those who, by not voting disapproval, seemed to voice their condoning of Mr. Wilson, grew up with mammas who told them, “Be nice”?

And what now of Mr. Wilson, who’s placed his own party in an indefensible position?

It speaks volumes that his outburst gleaned a couple million dollars for his campaign chest (as also for his opponent’s). The wages of sin can sometimes be pretty lucrative.

Nonetheless, seems to me he owed the President an apology (done), the House an apology (undone), and his fellow Republicans one too. For that matter, he’d set a good example to the entire nation if he apologized to us all. In so doing, he might even help to raise our level of civility.

But given the sad state of American manners, and the big payoff for keeping them so low, I won’t hold my breath.


– Column by David Cox



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