An appointment in L.A. for non-blogging business meant that I’d miss part of President Obama’s speech on health care but I knew I could catch at least some of it on the radio. Switching the dial, I heard always-lively conservative talker Mark Levin talking over Obama’s speech, making sarcastic negative comments throughout. So I switched to trusted news radio KNX for the unfiltered speech — but only heard part of it.
Then, when my business was through, I turned on the radio again and heard one talk show host talk with admiration about a man named Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.
Who was this man who this host seemed to hold in such awe and esteem? What did he do that caused the host to seem so close to openly praising him, but just falling a tad short? What did he say that seemingly overshadowed some of Obama’s speech? Just what had I missed??
Wilson, this host said, was saying what he himself and others wanted to say. And, then, finally I learned: Wilson had shouted “You lie!” to President Barack Obama during Obama’s speech. Finally, I arrived home to check the weblogs and discover that to some writers Wilson is now the man of the hour.
Move over Joe the Plumber, you now have Wilson who injected in the usually respectful setting of a Presidential address some of what Joe the Plumber usually toils to remove.
It is truly hard to find a parallel in our history for another time when some partisans have begun to substitute such sheer, unadulterated hatred, resentment and emotional rage into a political process that has been known — and respected — around the world for its vigorous, spirited, and often aggressive opposition that (traditionally) operated within certain norms.
It’s as if a whole segment of America now needs to take Valerian Root — or Valium. Think about it: some now consider it actually admirable that a sitting member of Congress shouted “You lie!” in the middle of a Presidential speech. So much for the norms of a Presidential address to Congress..
Ironically. some of the folks who now consider Wilson an apparent political role model — probably someone they’d love to have their kids watch if he delivered a televised speech into classrooms — are among those who only a few years ago talked about Bush derangement syndrome and slapped that label on not just those truly deranged about Bush but on those simply critical of Bush.
The reaction to Obama on the part of some of his partisan foes is now making Bush derangement syndrome look like a hot and heavy Dawson’s Creek romance.
Here are the bottom lines:
1. The House and Senate have always had a certain decorum and there has been an institutional respect for Presidents who speak before it. You will find few instances of Presidents being heckled so bluntly and directly by an opposition member. And there is probably no precedent in the history of Congress where a member of Congress shouted out “You lie!” One LA talk show host tried to justify and rationalize it by talking lovingly of Britain’s tradition of the PM being grilled by shouting opposition members. Pure spin: Americans Senators and House members have never behaved in this manner towards any Presidents of either party.
2. Every day it seems the bar is being lowered on how some Americans address those who see things differently. You have to demonize and detest them; you can’t just assertively debate or challenge them.
3. Ben Smith, of The Politico — an online publication that can hardly be called a hotbed of socialism, liberalism, Marxism or part of the Obama spin machine — says Wilson was flat out WRONG (we won’t use the “l” word since Wilson believes what he shouted and most likely won’t let facts get in the way of his beliefs):
A loud voice from the Republican side of the hall answered, “You lie!” — my colleague Glenn Thrush reports it was Rep. Joe Wilson (R – S.C.) — drawing a second “It’s not true,” from Obama and a shake of Nancy Pelosi’s head.
The bill is designed to exclude those immigrants, though some Republicans have called for more explicit bans on funding for illegal immigrants and have claimed the bill will funnel money to illegal immigrants.
FactCheck.org described those claims as “false” and noted that one version of the legislation already includes an explicit bar on federal funding for illegal immigrants’ health care.
And — the way American politics operates — I fully expect to get emails demonizing FactCheck.org and The Politico.
But that’s the way it is now in American politics: the norms of even rough traditional American political battle are being cast off by some now as easily as a reptile casts off old skin.
Wilson shouted “You lie.”But some Americans most assuredly felt like shouting to him: “You embarrass.”
Meanwhlie, Wilson has apologized to Obama — but he’s now a hero in some quarters.
So look for Wilson to be a highly sought after guest and talking head now on Fox News and on Rush, Sean and Glenn’s shows.
If his political career sours, he’ll probably get his own TV or radio show (why not? It worked for Mark Foley..)
But if he appears on Levin’s show, don’t expect Levin to talk over him.
Here’s the You Tube of the incident:
Here’s some more reaction:
—Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent:
I guess Rep. “Joe” Wilson (R-S.C.) — actually, Addison Graves Wilson, Sr. — found out about that secret Democratic plot to provide all illegal immigrants with free health care.
What else could explain his outburst — “You Lie!” — during President
Obama’s speech on health care reform, responding to the president’s statement that “the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally”?
Perhaps Wilson believes that illegal immigrants ought not get emergency medical treatment, which is the only medical benefit they might qualify for — when they show up in a hospital on the verge of death, for example.
Or maybe it’s just because Wilson’s last campaign was supported by the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC — a restrictionist group that supports deporting all illegal immigrants in the United States rather than offering any opportunities for legalization, or “amnesty.”
Let me go out on a limb and say that it is not a good plan to heckle the president of the United States when he’s making a speech about replacing acrimony with civility….
Most of the Republicans listening to Barack Obama’s health care address Wednesday night followed the normal rule about sitting in stony silence while the president’s party leaps up and down in rapturous applause. But there were a few exceptions, notably Joe Wilson, a member of Congress from South Carolina who loudly called the president a liar.
This was when Obama said illegal immigrants would not be covered by health care reform. It seemed like a pretty tame remark for so much disrespect, given all the recent uproar over the president’s alleged ability to brainwash elementary school students.
You might have expected Wilson to hold his tongue and wait to see if Obama would yell “Marxism is a good thing!” and send the commerce committee racing off to give workers control over the means of production.
No doubt emotions are often heated during these joint sessions with the president and members of Congress, but decorum typically rules—except for tonight, apparently. In an interview with CNN afterwards, Sen. John McCain trashed Wilson’s heckling and urged him to apologize. “Totally disrespectful,” McCain said. A little over an hour after the speech, Wilson did just that, issuing a statement of regret….
….Now’s he’s a trending topic on Twitter and Google and some critics are vowing to contribute money to his Democratic opponent in what already looks like a tough 2010 race. And for the record, Wilson was wrong: HR 3200, the health care bill under debate in the House, explicitly prohibits coverage for illegal immigrants.
One thing is for sure: Wilson’s outburst didn’t do the GOP any favors tonight, particularly against a backdrop of a speech in which Obama went after his critics to either put up or shut up on health care reform. It completely overshadowed the official Republican response to Obama’s speech.
The words “you lie” will live in infamy for Joe Wilson, the overheated Republican Congressman who shouted at President Obama during his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Beyond criticism and a swift apology, the incident has already provided a fundraising bonanza for Wilson’s opponent, Rob Miller, a Democrat and Marine Corps veteran.
Miller raised over $50,000 in just a few hours after Wilson’s outburst, after activists and small donors flooded his page on ActBlue. Bloggers and readers at Daily Kos, a popular liberal blog, also used the site to instantly create a dedicated fundraising page highlighting the incident. The portal, titled “Defeating the man who yelled ‘liar’ at Obama: Goodbye Rep Joe Wilson,” has already raised $35,000 for Wilson from over 1,050 individual donors.
PREDICTION: In the way our politics now operates, expect some conservatives and talk show hosts to start raising money for Wilson now that progressives are raising money for his opponent.
—A top Obama advisor responds with humor:
David Axelrod, one of President Obama’s chief advisors, responded to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) outburst during the President’s address to Congress. Axelrod joked that he reluctantly accepted that Wilson will not be on board with the President’s plan
But perhaps the most perceptive commentary comes from Time Magazine — which says Wilson gave Obama an incredible gift. So we’ll quote that one here a bit more extensively:
Those words cut in politics. When directed at the President of the United States, during a prime time address to the nation no less, they cut deep.
So when Rep. Joe Wilson, a little known Republican and Army reserve veteran from South Carolina shouted them at the nation’s commander-in-chief on the night of Sept. 9, heads snapped. The House Chamber took a collective gasp. Nancy Pelosi, sitting behind Obama, tensed and scowled as if she had just witnessed a crime, her disgust unhidden.
Even Obama, who had just dismissed conservative claims that illegal immigrants would be able to take advantage of health-care reform, was taken aback. He looked to his left, adjusted his arm, part nervous twitch, part macho posturing, and shot back at Wilson, “That’s not true.” And there, for a moment, the nation watched two men, elected to lead, call each other the worst thing in politics — dishonorable deceivers.
At the moment Wilson exploded, the outburst seemed like an assault on the President. Soon afterwards, it was clear that it had been a gift. Wilson had, in an emotional expression, proven Obama’s point: the summer of town halls had been less a discussion than a circus, a forum where misinformation was vindicated by passion, where disrespect was elevated as a virtue. Now the circus had come inside Congress.
May I use a word I seldom use?
UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Dana Milibank says Wilson was not the only Republican who behaved badly — that it was not the party’s finest hour. Read it in full. He has this tidbit at the end
An incensed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel went up to GOP Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.) to complain about the outburst. “No president has ever had that happen,” Emanuel said. “My advice is he apologize immediately. You know my number.”
Wilson did as Emanuel advised. After all that shouting, it’s a wonder he wasn’t too hoarse to place the call.
Fourth Bottom Line: This will play well with the GOP’s talk radio political culture base (which the LA Times Tim Rutten now also expands to talk radio and Internet) but it won’t play well with many Americans, including many thoughtful Republicans who are not part of the talk radio political culture GOP wing.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.