Rep. Joe Wilson’s Lament: the difference between “No! No!” and “You lie!”

Posted by on Sep 10, 2009 in extremism, health care | 5 comments

It’s come to this: the need to explain the difference between booing during a presidential speech, or shouting “No! No!”, and shouting “You lie!”

From the New York Times:

It was a rare breach of the protocol that governs ritualistic events in the Capitol.

In an angry and very audible outburst, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, interrupted President Obama’s speech Wednesday night with a shout of “You lie!”

His eruption — in response to Mr. Obama’s statement that Democratic health proposals would not cover illegal immigrants — stunned members of both parties in the House chamber.

Democrats said it showed lack of respect for the office of the presidency and was reminiscent of Republican disruptions at recent public forums on health care.

Right wing bloggers are trying to make the case that since Democrats booed loudly and shouted “No! No!” during George W. Bush’s 2005 SOTU speech, it’s okay for Rep. Joe Wilson to shout “You lie!” at Obama during his speech.

Now, it’s a real shame this has to even be clarified: there’s a huge difference between booing or yelling “No! No!” during a speech and shouting “You lie!”

Yelling “No! No!” or booing during a speech is merely an expression of disagreement with the speech itself. It’s a time honored form of disagreement in such circumstance, even within the walls of the capitol. It may be a breech of protocol, but one that is practiced nonetheless, from time to time.

But, shouting “You lie!” is more than an expression of disagreement with the speech by the president.

Shouting “You lie!” is an accusation. And, it was directed squarely at the president.

It’s a historically important moment that would have provoked riotous wailing from conservatives if done by a Democrat to a Republican president. Since when are accusations of lying okay?

The fact that conservatives simply do not get that is yet one more example of how deep down the rabbit hole they have crawled.

Rep. Wilson was right to apologize, even if he did so and then tried to immediately back pedal.

Anyway, it’s great for the cause.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly really sums this one up nicely:

There are a few important angles to this. The first is substantive. When Wilson accused the president of lying, Wilson was, in fact, lying. Even in Congress, facts should matter, and the right-wing Republican wasn’t just obnoxious with his idiotic interruption, he was also wrong.

The second is personal. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, said, “Whoever shouted out that the president was lying is a dumbass.” John McCain denounced Wilson’s outburst as “totally disrespectful.” While right-wing blogs were thrilled, Republican lawmakers have been entirely unwilling to defend Wilson’s behavior.

The third is contextual. President Obama couldn’t have been more magnanimous last night, highlighting a plan that “incorporates ideas from many people in this room tonight, Democrats and Republicans.” He made frequent references to Republican lawmakers and even George W. Bush. Obama even talked up medical malpractice reform. It was in this context that Wilson decided to lash out? As Gail Collins noted this morning, “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.”

The fourth is practical. While Dems have been divided of late on policy specifics, they were unified last night — they loved Obama and they hated Joe Wilson. Indeed, I’ve seen reports that Wilson’s Democratic opponent next year, Rob Miller, suddenly saw a wave of new campaign contributions in the wake of Wilson’s conduct.

It’s striking that Wilson, unable to find any support from his allies, quickly apologized. He said his emotions got the best of him, and issued a statement that said, “While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He spoke directly to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last night to express his regret.

But the damage has been done. Indeed, Wilson’s outburst is an almost perfect summation of 2009 — President Obama appears big, Republicans appear small. Democrat show class, Republicans act like children. One side is serious, one side is shrill. The White House says something true, Republicans lash out with falsehoods.

To be sure, Wilson is a buffoon, from whom very little is expected. He’s hosting Glenn Beck minions at his office this weekend, and is a reflexive, right-wing clown masquerading as a congressman. He embarrassed himself, his party, and his institution last night, but it’s unlikely Wilson actually cares whether he’s a disgrace or not. Bruce Bartlett noted this morning, “He’s become the new Sarah Palin of the Republican Party, where one’s popularity is in inverse proportion to one’s stupidity — the stupider a Republican is these days the more popular he or she becomes.”

What will be interesting to see if there are any real consequences. There’s been some talk of censure, or demanding that Wilson deliver a formal apology to the House itself.

Any return to civility is a good start. Whether we can carry such civility farther and get health care reform on track again, remains to be seen.

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