If an idiot speaks and no one listens, is he still an idiot?

During the debate on the health care reform legislation, the party of “just say no” focused some of their negativism on Rep. Bart Stupak, whose switch from “no” to “yes” after President Obama promised an executive order prohibiting federal funds being spent on abortions gave the Democrats enough votes to pass the legislation.   At one point during Stupak’s floor speech, one member (presumably Republican, but not confirmed) shouted “Babykiller”.  The presiding speaker, Rep. Dave Obey, has said that he saw who shouted it but preferred not to snitch.  “Members have a right to make an idiot of themselves once without being identified,” he said.

Putting aside the fact that there is a direct correlation between increased health care availability and reduced abortion rates, Rep. Obey presumes a couple illogical points:

  • A person has a right to be an idiot.
  • Being an idiot is a self-reported state.

People do not have a “right” to be an idiot, no more than they have a “right” to exceed the speed limit if they are late for a meeting or to shout “Fire!” in a public building.  To be an idiot is to act outside of commonly acceptable behavior.

I doubt that very many people would willingly identify  themselves as an idiot.  Idiocy is conferred upon a person by others.  It is a classification based upon societal norms, conferred upon someone by others.  A person is only an idiot if they are identified as such by others.

A better response would have been to say “Members have a right to be ignorant in their own minds and, for purposes of decorum it is best not to identify such people.”

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