Posted Sep 15, 2009
U.S. REP. John Shimkus should know something about respecting a commander in chief. After all, the conservative Republican from southern Illinois graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where the topic must have come up from time to time.
Shimkus walked out toward the end of President Barack Obama’s address on health care because he was “frustrated that the president was not offering any new ground…,” said spokesman Steve Tomaszewski.
Shimkus, who represents parts of the Springfield area, has been vocal in his disagreement with Obama’s plan. He’s a conservative Republican who is hewing close to his party’s values and seeking to represent his constituency.
“What I cannot support is a government-run health-care program that will inevitably lead to rationing,” Shimkus said.
THE DEBATE over how to fix an ailing health-care system is a valid one. Shimkus, and others, have every right to argue as passionately for their convictions as possible. That’s what they are elected to do. What we ask is that Shimkus and others who feel strongly about the bill do it respectfully and constructively.
To be fair, Shimkus wasn’t the only person to show poor manners. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina audibly blurted, “You lie,” in response to a statement by President Obama that illegal immigrants were not covered by his proposed health-care bill.
Wilson offered a tepid non-apology apology for his boorish behavior. Then he opportunistically seized the moment to make a video trying to hustle up some campaign cash.
Some other members of Congress in attendance at the speech signaled their feelings by rolling eyes, fiddling with Blackberries and otherwise fidgeting.
SO LET'S REVISIT the West Point motto of “Duty, Honor, Country,” and apply it to this situation:
* DUTY: Show respect, even if you don’t agree with the person bearing the message. It’s a version of the old military adage of salute the uniform, not the man. There’s plenty of time to loudly and forcefully debate the bill or bills that will be before the House and Senate.
* HONOR: Honor your constituents by acting in a way that enhances the office, not distracts from it. This isn’t a reality TV show where acting out is video gold.
* COUNTRY: Health-care reform is one of the most important debates of our time. For the good of the country, Shimkus and colleagues at the speech who showed as much disdain as they could for the benefit of the cameras should act like they are serious about helping Americans address the train wreck that is our current health-care system.
Walking out of a meeting is a theatrical flourish worthy of kindergarten. When it comes as it did during a presidential address before a joint session of Congress, it rises to the level of cheap showmanship that is full of sound and fury, but in the end signifies nothing but a lack of manners and an inability to listen to others’ ideas.