Joe Wilson's outburst was boorish and rude, but it is simply an expression of something more virile in our land. One of the issues that keeps popping up, and the one that elicited Joe Wilson's outburst is the presence of the immigrant in our midst.
E.J. Dionne has written a helpful response to this situation in his Washington Post column. He notes that the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants has been addressed directly in all bills -- they will not have access to health insurance through reform. Of course, the reality is that any person, whether citizen or not, whether legal or illegal, will get treated in our nations ER's. And if you think that is wrong, you may want to rethink it. As Dionne points out, even if you do not act from compassion, you out to act in self-interest, for your own health can be at stake if someone with a communicable disease isn't treated.
But I think there is something else at work, and that is fear of the other. I hear and read tirades about immigrants, legal and illegal, all the time. Part of the reaction (though not all) to the President is deeply rooted racism -- the belief that the President of the United States cannot be a black man. Therefore, there is this need to delegitimize him. He is not a citizen, we're told. Or, he's a Muslim. This latter charge is meant to put him beyond the pale, because we are a Christian nation and thus only a Christian can be President. The fact that Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim is beside the point. There is no religious test for any office -- it's in the Constitution.
But more to the point here is our own national ethos, the one enshrined in the Statue of Liberty. That statue stands as a beacon to the world, offering a place of welcome and hope. Have we forgotten the meaning of this symbol? Is it no longer relevant?
How mean-spirited will we allow ourselves to become? How coarsened has our political culture made us? We like to see ourselves as a generous, caring and welcoming nation. Are we losing that part of our character?
And as a final thought, may we consider these words of Jesus from Matthew 25, asking what they might have to say to us at this moment in time:
The Sheep and the Goats31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:31-40 TNIV)