Spectacle As Political and Rhetorical Sleight-of-Hand

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While seemingly countless mass-media outlets in the U.S. spend minutes and hours “covering” Rep. Joe Wilson outburst (not that there’s news to cover; he yelled “You lie!” during a speech by a U.S. President to Congress, and the outburst was “news” for up to 24 hours for those who didn’t watch the speech), we note citizens’ minds may be distracted from less garish but more substantial matters.

For example, in Rep. Wilson’s home-state, South Carolina, the poverty-rate in 2004 was 15.7% (before the major impact of the recession), placing the state 10th in highest rates of poverty in the U.S. This information comes from statemaster.com. The U.S. government and state-governments establish the “poverty-line” using a variety of means, of course, but as of 2008, if a family of four had a total annual income of $21,200 U.S. dollars, it was at the poverty-line, so I’d say the poverty-line is set pretty low.

In addition, according to a site called covertheuninsured.org . . .,

19.4% of South Carolinians are uninsured [medical].

In 2002, uninsured South Carolinians cost the system $1,936 per uninsured individual.

60% of the uninsured are hard working citizens of South Carolina.

74% of the uninsured list affordability as the reason they have not purchased health insurance.

Perhaps it would be prudent to anticipate some objections now.

Are the data from this site accurate? I don’t know, but I do know I winced at the adjective “hard” before “working” because the data can’t determine how hard people work, only that they work, so that adjective is a bit of a tip-off to bias. Also, are the data about South Carolina’s poverty-rate reliable? I don’t know, but I suspect that most sources would provide data that were similar.

My main point doesn’t rely on the accuracy of the data, however. It relies on the apparent fact that instead of focusing on poverty-levels and numbers of people without health-insurance in South Carolina (and elsewhere)–what one might call “news that stays news,” to borrow from a poet–the mass media are distracted by the magic-trick of “You lie!” Yes, it was rude. No, Obama wasn’t lying: provisions about “illegal immigrants” already exist in two draft-bills from Congressional committees. Yes, there is a possibility that if the President were not African American, Wilson may not have acted so rudely. Even if one disagrees with these assertions, however, one is focusing on the sleight-of-hand.

With the help of media, Mr. Wilson made a spectacle of himself.

Meanwhile, outside the theater (as it were) exist some serious problems with poverty and medicine–in Mr. Wilson’s home-state and elsewhere. Perhaps it’s best not to watch the magician’s hands for very long and preferable to leave the theater and move on to other topics, rhetorical, political, and otherwise.

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