Sometimes really incompetent and corrupting ethical verdicts run through the media and the culture like a bad flu, sickening our values and weakening our comprehension of what “good” is. These come with equal frequency from the Right and the Left—right now, they are flying in from both directions, which means that the United States is likely to get even sicker that it already is from an ethical perspective, and it is perilously ill already. From the Left, we have choruses proclaiming that the President apologized for lying to the public about how the Affordable Care Act would work, when he did nothing of the sort by any reasonable and honest analysis based on what an apology is. (I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post.)
From the Right, we are now hearing that because it is past denying that the President in fact did lie about Obamacare, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is owed an apology (as long as he gets as much of an apology as the faux example the President offered on Wednesday, I might not object too much) for the criticism he received after shouting out “You lie!” as President Obama was giving his 2009 address touting his health care legislation to Congress. Wilson is not owed any apology, nor has he been “vindicated,” as thousands of commenters on websites and bloggers have been claiming for weeks.
Naturally, a prime force in the “Joe Wilson Has Been Vindicated!” movement is Joe himself, who at least is focusing on the specific part of Obamacare his boorish outburst concerned, its alleged benefits to illegal immigrants. Most of his defenders, like alk show host Sean Hannity, are arguing that “You lie!” has been retroactively validated because the President has been conclusively shown to have lied about Obamacare and a number of other matters.
All of which is proof of ethics brain death. Wilson’s spontaneous utterance was uncivil. It was rude. It was a violation of protocol, tradition, dignity, fairness, respect for the presidency, respect for the government of which Wilson is a trustee, respect for the United States of America. It damaged the necessary comity that is essential for or government to function (as the past four years since his conduct have persuasively demonstrated.) It lowered the Congress of the United States to the level of Brown University, where students shout down those with whom they disagree. It failed the standards of the Golden Rule, and Kant’s Rule of Universality (imagine if every elected representative felt that it was appropriate to heckle speakers, especially the President), and any utilitarian test: much was lost in his breach of centuries old traditions of decorum, and nothing was gained, except an increased ability of Wilson to raise money from his less-civilized and intelligent supporters. It was, in sum, wrong.
All of this would be still true if we had subsequently learned that everything the President had ever told us was a lie—that he was really born in Kenya, is a practicing Muslim, that his marriage to Michelle is a sham, because she and his “daughters” are paid actresses, and his real wife is an unphotogenic troll who lives in a special compound beneath the White House. He rigged the vote count in all of his elections; he has been secretly negotiating to allow the Iranians to infiltrate the highest reaches of the government, and his “Obama” persona is just a high-tech disguise, as “Barack” is really an overweight Asian transsexual woman named “Mimsy.”
It wouldn’t matter. Joe Wilson was utterly wrong to shout out “You lie!’ because the act was inherently unethical in any context, and subsequent discoveries, no matter what they are, cannot redeem it. Dishonesty does not retroactively justify civility.
You are not vindicated, Congressman, and nobody owes you an apology. You received a formal reprimand, and got off easy, and you never apologized. You still owe one, to the President you insulted, and the public whose government you disgraced.