Joe Wilson: A sad example of politics today

South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson’s rude, obnoxious outburst during President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night exemplifies what is wrong with politics and government today.

Wilson shouted out "You lie!" when Obama said his proposed health care reform plan would not provide health insurance to illegal immigrants. Both Republicans and Democrats condemned Wilson’s behavior. Sen. John McCain, Obama’s opponent in the 2008 Presidential election, called Wilson’s shoutout "totally disrespectful."

"There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately," McCain said. Wilson later called the White House to apologize, speaking not to Obama but to chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel.

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me," Wilson said in a statement released by his Congressional office. "While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."

Lack of civility? McCain said it better when he called Wilson’s behavior "totally disrespectful."

Totally disrespectful is a good way to describe politics in general in Washington and most of the nation. From the childish behavior during the August town meetings to the shoutfests that replace rational discussion on so-called cable TV "news" shows, the national rhetoric is rude and out of control.

Politics is, and always has been, a tough business where the easily offended need not apply but the decorum that used to surround debate on issues has vanished, replaced by hyperbole, irrational ravings and outright lies.

The rhetoric that dominates the health care debate descended long ago into emotional misinformation fed by rabid ravings from the right.  Obama addressed the issue during his speech Wednesday night.

"It is a lie, plain and simple," Obama told Congress when he discussed the misinformation campaign that Republicans launched against health care.

But Democrats play the game too. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calls those who oppose Obama’s policies "un-American," the type of language we got from the ideologues of the Bush Administration.

During Bush’s eight years in office, opponents called him a "Nazi." I did as well, caught up in my own anger over his administration’s unrelenting assault on the Constitution.

Such language did nothing to further discussion on the issues and was no more constructive than those who now call Obama a "socialist."

Political debate in this country is not constructive. Hasn’t been for a long time.Somewhere along the way, the shouters, the haters and the obstructionists hijacked our system of government.

Joe Wilson’s outburst Wednesday night turns Congress into a sideshow where loudmouthed freaks get the attention but no one takes them seriously. But Congress is a sideshow with the ability to make law and that’s a frightening combination.

"When I make a joke, people laugh," Will Rogers once said. "When Congress makes a joke, it’s a law and when they make a law, it’s a joke."

So true. But no one is laughing.