Many people are faulting for Rep. Joe Wilson, who shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s health care address, for a major breach of civility. They are right to do so, but truth is more important than politeness, and it matters more in the end whether Wilson was wrong on the facts than whether he was wrong on form. In Britain, heckling has been enshrined as a civic institution in the form of Prime Minister’s Questions. Of course, we have different traditions of decorum. But wouldn’t our democracy become more interesting (and maybe even a little more accountable) if we adopted a similar practice? John McCain actually promised to do just that in the presidential campaign. Last night we got a little taste of what it might have been like.
Update: Yes, by all means do read Andrew Sullivan’s excellent post describing how civility can go along with a little rowdiness. At present we have neither. Instead, TV crews looking to inject interest are forced to cross-cut to members nodding off while the nation, presumably, does the same.