Sunday, September 27, 2009


When President Barack Obama recently addressed the Congress on health care, Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-S.Car.) thought the president was being untruthful about whether or not his plan would extend health coverage to illegal immigrants. He interrupted the speech, shouting "You lie!"

The etiquette of the situation is clear: Wilson's outcry was a breach of Congressional protocol, and he later apologized to Obama. Voting largely along party lines, the House of Representatives passed a resolution disapproving of Wilson's comment.

What about the ethics, though? Assuming that Wilson truly believed Obama to be lying, was he wrong to call the president on it? Or did he have an obligation to contradict him immediately, given that no subsequent correction would reach so wide an audience?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

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Anonymous said...

Representative Wilson was wrong to make the outburst in the joint session of Congress. It may have been an impulse, even an almost-overwhelming impulse, but he should have controlled the impulse.

That he was correct - the President did not tell the truth - does not make the impulse appropriate.

As I write this, I am torn between my feelings of "control yourself" towards his action, and my feelings of "tell the whole truth" in regard to the President's statement. The bill as written provided no framework to exclude illegals from Federally-created insurance coverage. With no means to check citizenship as part of the bill, the insurance coverage would have included illegals. And make no mistake: even if the bill says insurance buyers must support the insurance exchange through premiums paid, sooner rather than later taxpayers will pick up much of the bill.

But......two wrongs don't make a right. The President was wrong to mislead Americans, and the Representative was wrong to point it out in such a manner in the Congress.

Representative Wilson has apologized.

Bill Jacobson said...

Wilson's apology does not make right his wrong outburst. Wilson has continued to campaign on his being the only one to speak out against the president's plan and he has raked in the contribution dollars for doing so. This was not an uncontrolled outburst as much as a well planned campaign strategy. It was a breach of decorum that was wholly uncalled for. He should be censured by Congress for the outburst and stripped of his ill-gotten gains. The only comfort I take from Congress's failure to do so is that his rival has raked in more from the outburst.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA