What To Do About Joe Wilson

[ Posted Thursday, September 10th, 2009 – 17:04 UTC ]

We speak today not of Valerie Plame Wilson's husband Joseph, but instead a different "Joe Wilson" in the world of politics. This particular Joe is a representative from South Carolina. This Joe was rude to the president last night during his speech in the House chamber by yelling out: "You lie!" There were other similar grumblings and outright heckling from the Republican side of the aisle last night, but none of the rest were as loud and clear on the microphones as Wilson. By his volume and clarity, he elected himself poster boy for the disrespect shown by members of Congress for the president. The other voices in the crowd will likely be swept aside, as everyone in the media and in politics focuses on Joe as the designated heckler of the night.

Joe has now become a lightning rod. The House of Representatives is reportedly considering calling for a censure of Joe. But while it would be an entertaining political sideshow, there are two much more concrete consequences of Joe's heckling worth examining, which we'll get to in a bit. If the situation were reversed, of course, Republicans would be calling for the head (or at least the resignation) of any Democrat who showed such disrespect to a Republican president. Thankfully, a few Republican leaders realized very early on that this was a black eye for the party, and were not shy in saying so. Senator John McCain, for instance, did not mince words in talking about Joe's behavior: "totally disrespectful -- no place for it in that setting or any other, and he should apologize immediately." Joe himself even admitted that he apologized only after his own party's leaders told him to do so.

So, with even Republicans distancing themselves from Joe, a censure may indeed happen. Censures are, of course, all but meaningless, since they carry no penalty whatsoever. But holding votes on them is a political tool both sides of the aisle feel the urge to use on occasion (see:'s censure for their "General Betray-Us" ad). So the sideshow may reach its conclusion in the next few days with the House officially stating: "Bad Representative! Bad!" to Joe.

Another recourse actually being considered is a court martial. Joe is apparently a member of the reserves. And the military has very clear and concise language which says its members cannot badmouth their own military and civilian leaders -- all the way up to the president. While, on the face of it, it would indeed seem that Joe broke these rules of conduct, it's a little hard to imagine the military getting involved in this political fracas. It could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it myself.

But there are two possible outcomes which should give Republicans pause today. The first is that Joe's Democratic challenger has reportedly raised over half a million dollars in campaign donations since last night. In less than 24 hours, this money has poured in to Rob Miller's campaign to defeat Joe at the polls next year. Half a million may not sound like a lot, but for a House race that is an enormous amount of money -- especially as it shows no signs of letting up. It would be ironic indeed if Joe, in essence, financed his own defeat at the polls. But money isn't votes, and there's a lot of time for people to forget between now and election day next year, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

The lesson, though, is clear. The Republican Party has courted the fringiest of the fringe for the past few months. This may be the beginning of the whirlwind they reap as a direct result. Earlier this week, I pointed out that the tide may be beginning to turn on all that rage out there. When the Republican base decided to create a conspiracy theory over the president telling schoolchildren to study hard and stay in school, they began to look like "The Party Of We Hate Obama" to average Americans. Last night did nothing but further that impression among moderates. The contrast between Obama being so downright reasonable in his speech and the playground tactics of the Republicans was starkly shown for all to see. So starkly that even Republicans were denouncing the tactics immediately after the speech. But once sown, whirlwinds are notoriously hard to ignore or disavow. One wonders if things are this white-hot in a year with no election in it, what the state of political discourse will be like next year. Or in 2012. And though they may edge away from the screamers, Republicans may find that they are tied to this stone for a while to come.

But the biggest result of last night -- bigger than a raft of campaign contributions for Joe's opponent, and much bigger than a censure -- is the fact that the media is sheepishly waking up from their long summer's nap. Of course, they haven't woken up enough to actually do some self-examination and take any responsibility for the state of affairs we find ourselves in -- that would be asking too much from the current denizens of the Fourth Estate. Even though a fairly direct cause-and-effect line can be drawn from "elevate screaming and frothing at the mouth to the lead political story for over a month" and "obscure Republican House members thinking it would be a good idea to scream during a presidential speech." After all, can we really blame Joe? For weeks and weeks now, the media has treated as darlings the loudest and rudest people they can find to put on camera. So it's really no wonder that Joe felt like yelling when he did. He probably expected lots of juicy national news interviews as a direct result. Why shouldn't he have? That's the model the media has been using all summer.

But it seems, starting with the "controversy" over Obama's school speech and continuing with the hecklers last night, that the media is finally remembering that some things are just downright embarrassing and should be condemned. This is going to, if we're lucky, become "the new story" for them. Especially if the censure plays out for another week or so, because then they'll have breathless updates of the situation -- which is media catnip. And the media may hit the "reset" button on how they cover protesters. They may go back to their standard protest coverage, which can be summed up as: "Hey, check out the crazy people marching in the streets!" No matter what is being protested, that's the way the media usually covers such events. Maybe they'll return to this mode again.

But whether or not the media ever takes any blame for elevating screaming in the first place, the disdain they're almost universally showing for Joe and his merry band of hecklers this morning is an interesting development. One that may pay out huge dividends over the next few months. Because the tone of the media is an important factor in getting any political agenda through Congress, and also in gaining and retaining support from the American people. And if the media finally dares to call one side an embarrassment in the debate, that certainly helps the other side get its message out. Of course, this could all be short-lived. The media's notoriously fickle in this regard, so we shouldn't raise expectations of them too high.

In conclusion, my position on Joe Wilson is go ahead and pass a meaningless symbolic censure of him if it makes House Democrats happy. Call for him to be court martialed, if you will. Express some outrage over his antics. Use him as a scapegoat for all the rude behavior shown the president last night (which was not limited to one shout from Joe, it should be noted). All of these are political theater, and fairly good political theater at that. But the true consequences of Joe's actions may be more subtle than all of this. If he gets chucked out and a Democrat wins a House seat in very conservative South Carolina, that will be a more fitting penalty for Joe. If all the Joe coverage shines a harsh spotlight on the tactics Republicans have become accustomed to use on a regular basis, that will also have a much more profound effect in the future. If Joe's plight makes Republicans a little more cautious in future, that will also be a good result. But the best result may be in changing the media's attitude from: "Wow, that guy's angry -- book him for tomorrow's show!" to something closer to: "Wow, that guy's irrational -- we should interview his constituents and ask them if they're embarrassed he represents them," then Joe's outburst will have changed the debate for the better -- in a way he never could have imagined.


-- Chris Weigant


15 Comments on “What To Do About Joe Wilson”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    How many Democrats boo'ed Bush in his State Of The Union addresses??


    How many times did Reid refer to Bush as a "loser" and a "liar"?


    What Wilson did was disrespectful and un-called for, no question.

    Democrats will make hay of it and get some mileage out of it, sure.

    But let's keep things in perspective. These things are nothing new. They always happen in politics. The only things that ever change is the perpetrator and the victim.

    Democrats take the "holier than thou" attitude at their own risk...


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    I am also constrained to point out that, while President Obama wasn't outright lying (take note all those who accuse Bush of lying without a second thought) he WAS mistaken when he stated that DunselCare would not allow illegal immigrants to be given coverage.

    The fact is that, because all of the House Bills do NOT have a requirement to prove citizenship to obtain healthcare benefits, there is absolutely NO structure in place to PREVENT illegal immigrants from obtaining healthcare.

    So, while President Obama was not (probably) lying, he WAS mistaken in his claim that no benefits would go to illegal immigrants...

    At last report, this citizenship loophole is being addressed by the Senate Finance Committee...


  3. [3] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Joe Wilson lied. Plain and simple.

    There was actually one recorded instance of Democrats booing Bush during a joint session, but to be fair Bush was lying through his eyeteeth about the Social Security trust fund.

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    I rest my case.

    Obama was "mistaken".

    Bush "lied".

    Thanx for proving my point so eloquently. :D


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:

    Interesting reading...

    Is America Breaking Up

    Something I have been saying since 2006, I believe..


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Another recourse actually being considered is a court martial. Joe is apparently a member of the reserves. And the military has very clear and concise language which says its members cannot badmouth their own military and civilian leaders — all the way up to the president. While, on the face of it, it would indeed seem that Joe broke these rules of conduct, it's a little hard to imagine the military getting involved in this political fracas. It could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it myself.

    A point about this.

    Apparently, Joe Wilson is a retired LT Colonel from the SC National Guard.

    I don't believe that the UCMJ applies to retired personnel excepting where offenses were committed while they were sworn military officers. Under those conditions, retired military personnel can be recalled to Active Duty and then face a Courts Martial.


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    For the record, I condemn Wilson's disrespect towards President Obama as clearly, forcefully and unequivocally as I did when I condemned Democratic Party leaders for their disrespect towards President Bush. In that regard, I am now and have been completely and utterly consistent. Probably the only one here who is.. :D

    Having said that, I find it humorous in the extreme that Democrats would actually utter a peep about a GOP'er telling President Obama, "You Lie!".

    It's funny because, during the 8 years of the Bush Presidency, Democrats up and down the spectrum made calling the President a liar a national past time.

    So, seriously.. Anyone who didn't blast Democrats for calling President Bush a liar (and worse) has absolutely no moral or ethical leg to stand on in condemning Joe Wilson.


  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    @Osborne Ink

    From your OWN link...

    Under health care reform, illegal immigrants would be able to buy private insurance or the public option.

    So, while Joe Wilson may have been wrong about Obama lying, it's clear from several different sourced reports, that Obama was mistaken when he said that "the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

    "These are the facts. And they are undisputed."
    -Captain Jack Ross, A FEW GOOD MEN


  9. [9] 
    kevinem2 wrote:

    Ah, Michale, as I read this Chris post I thought to myself that you would make your usual "what if the shoe were on the other foot" argument. Sure enough, there you are flogging the same tired dead horse over seven of the eight comments up till now.
    Unless Chris has comment length restrictions, could you possibly combine many of your comments into fewer, longer bites? Frankly, I'm tired of seeing a Chris post with lots of comments listed and then finding out you're responsible for most of them. I'm sorry to admit I now scroll over most of them unread because you keep saying the same thing with slight varience over and over again. I do appreciate your self-mocking moments and healthy knowledge of various aspects of geekdom, eg. Star Trek and the like. Still friends, but could you please be more succinct?

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Ah, Michale, as I read this Chris post I thought to myself that you would make your usual "what if the shoe were on the other foot" argument. Sure enough, there you are flogging the same tired dead horse over seven of the eight comments up till now.


    Why is "the shoe on the other foot" argument a tired dead horse?

    I would think that trying to apply the philosophy of the Left TO the left would be the epitome of fairness...

    In other words, I am applying the ARGUMENTS of the Left to the ACTIONS of the Left..

    The very definition, the very EPITOME of fairness... Wouldn't you agree? :D

    As for the rest.. While my comments appear to be "sound bites" and such, if you note the time stamps, you will see that they traverse the course of the day. In essence, once new information (or different takes on old information) becomes available and it is relevant to the discussion at hand, I comment on it.

    Annoying? Probably. I am the type that has to be taken to places twice. The second time, to apologize. :D

    But the surest way to shut me up is to counter my arguments with facts and logical discourse. Gods know I wouldn't want to be around a place where I always get my ass kicked, metaphorically/intellectually speaking.

    For this particular discussion, there is only one question.

    How can the Left castigate Wilson for calling President Obama a liar, when the Left made calling President Bush a liar (and worse) a national past time?

    Surely, it's a fair and logical question, no??

    So, what's the answer??

    Still and always friends.. :D


  11. [11] 
    Yeah right wrote:

    Michale, This is America and of course one can say if they feel the presiden is lying. This is our duty to point it out. Jefferson, I believe said we must protect ourself from the tyranny of the government. Just as a nation supposedly built of ideas could seat with another man with competing ideas. -- could listen to his ideas. However, by no way would mock this man. Especially, if he happens to be the president of the United States on the floor of Congress.

    Now of all the critcs who are out there suggesting the president is a liar from my understanding wasn't he speaking to let the people both Democrats and Republicans know what type of bill he wanted to sign? Wasn't he there trying to build a bridge between the conservatives and liberals? If this is the case then to call him a liar for a bill that is not in anyway near finish is more than just rude it's a lie. And instead of Mr. Wilson taking the opportunity to listen to the president on a issue he fills strongly about the guy attacked him like a two year old kid.

    So I have some advice for Mr. Wilson, if he wants to act like a child then so be it. The next time he feels that there is something in the bill that president said would not be in the bill, he should just tell the others in the house. BUT THE PRESIDENT SAID. Just I would have said to my older sisters when they were trying to break the rules.

    There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought. ~Charles Kingsley

  12. [12] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Yeah right -

    Please PLEASE don't give Congress tips on how to behave as children!


    They do enough of it all on their own as it is...

    Heh heh.


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:


    My only point was how it is hypocritical for the Left to condemn GOP CongressCritters for calling the President a liar, when it was Dem CongressCritters who made a sport of calling President Bush a liar at every opportunity for nearly 8 years..

    My opinion has ALWAYS been that one shows the President Of The United States the respect that said office deserves.

    The prevailing opinion around here (certain exceptions noted) seems to be that one only shows respect to the office when one agrees with the office holder.

    That's my story and I am sticking to it! :D


  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    With a political arms race in full force, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) has raised almost $750,000 in less than 48 hours since his shout of "You lie!" to President Obama during the Wednesday address to Congress, almost matching the Internet-fueled haul of his likely Democratic opponent.

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    Maureen Dowd's OpEd piece in the NY Times goes beyond the pale.

    In it, she suggests that Joe Wilson's outburst against President Obama was racially based.


    This begs the question of Ms Dowd... And MANY MANY other Democrats who have the same mindset.

    Is it possible that any criticism against Obama is NOT racially based?

    In other words, can't anyone have ANY legitimate complaints against Obama without bringing race into the issue?

    Maybe someone (anyone) here can field that...


    "no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq "

    Ex-squeeze me??

    Baking Powder??

    What planet has Dowd been living on for the past 8.6 years??

    As has been established, Democrats up and down the ladder made calling the President a liar the national past-time during the Bush years.

    Most times, Ms Dowd is right on, but she sure stepped on her wee-wee with this commentary.


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