When Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled You lie!! during President Obamas recent State of the Union speech, the knee-jerk Washington Establishment response was (alleged) shock and dismay. How discourteous! How rude! Why, we are just shocked! The Democrats demanded an immediate apologywhich they gotbut that wasnt good enough, apparently, to heal their damaged sensibilities. A congressional resolution of disapproval was then pushed through condemning Wilsons outburst.
But was Wilsons outburst really inappropriate? Hardly. The fact remains that President Obama was lying about illegal alien insurance coverage in the House health care (draft) bills then under consideration, and he was doing it before a complicit and lazy national media that never would have caught the falsehood or held him accountable for it. I say Joe Wilson performed a national service and that we need more, far more, of such outbursts.
Those of us who love liberty and decry the advancement of government in almost every area of life are far too courteous and deferential toward our ideological enemies. We almost never say You lie in public policy debates even though our public policy opponents explicitly lie all of the time. Instead, our decision to follow the rules of decorum makes us complicit in a process that almost always produces unfavorable outcomes.
Think about it. The statist political agenda, if implemented, would logically lead to total control of the economy and to a far lower standard of living for us and our children; yet somehow we are expected to treat statist theft demands with honest and reasoned debate under the rules. We often pretend that statist positions are simply mistaken and that they actually can be persuaded from their ultimate mission by some fact-based argument or clever journal article citation. However, given recent public policy events (e.g. bailouts and stimulus bills), that belief seems extremely naïve.
The health-care debate proves the rule. What stalled the health-care juggernaut in its tracks, at least for the moment? Was it carefully researched position papers and/or op-eds by well-intentioned libertarians (me included)? Hardly. It was, instead, demonstrable and passionate outrage by ordinary citizens at town hall meetings across this country who shouted down speakers and said, in effect, You lie. It was the noise, not the reason, that made the politicians finally pay attention.
Now, Im not saying that reasoned argument doesnt matter; far from it. But I am saying that though necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for the reversal of our legislative fortunes; for if it were, we would have won the battle long ago. Right? So heres my salute of appreciation for those willing to physically and vocally put their beliefs on the line in a public forum. You guys make a difference.
Whats next? Well, the list of public officials that could be confronted with shouts of You lie!! is almost endless. When we see Fed Chairman Bernankes lips moving, we can be almost sure that he is not telling the truth. Bernanke, you lie. Ditto Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, of course, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd could well be the poster boys for public fibbing. Gentlemen, you have made lying an art form.
For those of us less inclined to yell out, we need thousands of You lie!! sweat shirts that can be worn to all health-care town hall meetings and to all tea parties. That simple message will then confront the politicians (and the press) with their own mendacity and will say, in effect: when we see your lips moving, we know that you are probably not telling us the truth.
Dominick T. Armentano
Dominick T. Armentano is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut). He is the author of Antitrust & Monopoly.
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