Do you remember South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson yelling “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a speech nearly a decade ago?
If you do, you likely remember the waves of condemnation that followed and concerned debate between talking heads about the debasement of public discourse. In retrospect, of course, the entire episode seems hilarious. Obama turned out to be one of our country’s most mild-mannered leaders, and Wilson continued serving his constituents. So what good did the episode do, besides hurt feelings?
We ask the same question about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s decision, at the end of President Trump’s State of the Union address, to dramatically tear up her copy of the speech. We ask the same question about the president’s earlier decision to avoid shaking Pelosi’s hand.
What good does any of that do? What, ultimately, is the point of any of it?
This isn’t necessarily a call for civility or good behavior, although we could certainly use more of each from those in power. It’s a call to step back and take a good, hard look at behavior. Trump and Pelosi don’t agree on much, and have battled politically. No one will mistake them for the closest of friends anytime soon. But why act like raging jerks on top of that?
Government is difficult in the best of times. Look back to any era you care to recount, and leaders from both parties probably believed they lived in the worst of times. The opposition party was intractable, and members of their own party were often little better. Legislation took ages to pass, was bloated with this giveaway or that, and constituents condemned the whole scene.
As difficult as it may be to believe, in another 20 or 30 years, we will look back at these events and wonder why everyone showboated the way they did. Tearing up a speech makes no progress for Democratic priorities. It doesn’t help a single family. Snubbing the speaker doesn’t help Republican ideas. It doesn’t strengthen the economy.
The temperature between the parties is high in these post-impeachment days. We understand. Trump feels unjustly persecuted (perhaps his resting state), and Democrats feel as though their exhaustively researched case has been ignored.
But in case you didn’t notice, an election is coming up this year. Everyone across the country will have a chance to weigh in this November. And few will be casting their ballots based on public displays of pique. They will want to know, simply: How will you make my life better? How will you make the country better?
These are the questions worthy of attention. And this is where politicians should focus their energy, rather than tearing down one another.