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Where's the civility in debate nowadays?

September 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you watched President Obama's speech on health care Tuesday, you most likely did not miss the outburst that made him pause and turn his head. A congressman yelled out, "You lie." Now, people on both sides of the aisle are wondering where the civility is. The congressman was sharply criticized from both sides of the aisle and he quickly apologized, but his outburst has prompted discussion among political analysts and others who say this breakdown in civility may only be the beginning.
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  • The outburst heard across the house floor stunned legislators across partisan lines.

    The eruption came from South Carolina republican Joe Wilson came during President Obama's speech to congress on health care reform.

    The congressman apologized today.

    "I last night heard from the leadership that they wanted me to contact the White House and state that my statements were inappropriate, I did," said Congressman Wilson.

    President Obama accepted Wilson's apology, hoping to calm tensions. But this controversial issue is becoming more contentious by the day. It comes after a month of emotional town hall meetings and a steady decline in civil discourse.

    Outcries happened at a town hall in Redlands in August.

    A Thousand Oaks healthcare rally during the previous week left a man with his finger tip bitten off by another protestor.

    Now after Wednesday night's outburst, there's discussion about what some call a decline of civility in public debate.

    "To imagine that somebody of that stature would think that it would be appropriate to make that kind of terribly rude and disrespectful statement is unfortunately a terrible statement of our times," said ethicist Michael Josephson.

    Josephson is concerned that the congressman's behavior may signal a major trend toward the negative.

    "This is a turning point. We're either going to turn back to a notion of saying, 'Come on let's shape up and be adults,' or we may turn in the other direction and say, 'Let the morality of the mob control,'" said Josephson.

    "Over the long haul this is just one more downward point on the way to an even lower level of political dialogue," said Dan Schnur a republican political strategist.

    Schnur believes that what happened on the house floor could help the President.

    "What's interesting is whether Obama and his advisors will be able to use it to rally supporters on behalf of healthcare reform," said Schnur.

    Back on Congressman Wilson's home turf, his constituents are not happy with his behavior. Contributions to his democratic opponent jumped by $200,000.

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