What is appropriate in protecting the White House should be appropriate in protection from Whitehouse. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, that is. The Democrat from Rhode Island said words on the Senate floor on Sunday that should be struck down, and for which he ought to be officially chastised.
Mr. Whitehouse’s remarks were as full of bile as anything heard on the Senate floor in decades. Describing public opposition to Obamacare as stemming from the old myth of “the paranoid style in American politics,” he complained about “discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented destructive action, all to break the momentum of our young president. … They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The ‘birthers,’ the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militias and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Obama should exist.”
This is an unconscionable smear job against the 60 percent of Americans who polls say oppose the monstrous government health care bill. Nevertheless, it is not against the Senate’s Standing Rules to insult the general public. It is, however, against those rules to insult fellow senators. Rule 2 reads: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Here, then, is what Mr. Whitehouse went on to say about his fellow senators: “Our colleagues are behaving in this way - unprecedented, malignant and vindictive - because they are desperate to avoid that day of judgment, frantic and desperate now …” To accuse fellow senators of being “malignant and vindictive” is to impute to them a “motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.” Indeed, in February 2008, Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to withdraw the much milder description of another senator as being “shallow.”
For comparison, remember what happened to Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican. During a speech to Congress, President Obama accused his opponents of spreading lies, and then when the president falsely said that illegal immigrants would be prohibited from receiving health care subsidies under the bill at that time, Mr. Wilson yelled out, “You lie!”
So, for a spur-of-the-moment reply to a deception told by a president who just had accused opponents of lying, Mr. Wilson was rebuked officially by the House. Yet what Mr. Whitehouse did was far worse. It wasn’t a mere hotheaded exclamation, but a premeditated speech. And he didn’t merely challenge the factual basis of an assertion; instead, he directly challenged the motives of senators as being “malignant and vindictive.”
Those words should not stand. Nor, for that matter, should the far more serious insults to the American public. Whether or not those insults violate Senate rules, they surely violate common decency - for those words themselves are surely malignant.