This past Labor Day weekend I wrote a column about the lack of respect the office of the President has gotten lately from certain individuals, but I actually got to witness disrespect live and on television Wednesday night when Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina called the president a liar to his face, by shouting “You lie!” at him during his joint address to congress.
President Obama was explaining that healthcare benefits would not extend to illegal immigrants, but Wilson shouted to differ. Not only was he loud and boorish, he ended up offending everyone from Nancy Pelosi (who gave him the blinkity-blink-blinky stare of death then quickly wrote something down) to other Republicans who honestly didn’t need the distraction when they had successfully hijacked the healthcare debate up until now.
Wilson has since apologized for his outburst but the damage is done.
Wilson called the White House to apologize to President Obama in person, but was routed to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, according to Associated Press. He also issued a statement: “This evening I let my emotions get the best of me,” he 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.”
“Everybody was stunned,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-CA, said of Wilson’s eruption. “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.”
Republicans froze; several glanced in Wilson’s direction.
The problem with Wilson’s outburst is would this have happened to any other president? I can’t think of ANY other instance where something that disrespectful was shouted at the president by a member of Congress. At Politico, Roger Simon quipped that if Democrats had shouted “You lie” every time they thought a Republican president was lying to them Richard Nixon would still be speaking. It’s simply unheard of no matter how much you disagree with the president. There is a certain weight the office carries that is supposed to go beyond disagreements, beyond political wrangling. He is the president. As I said in my earlier column, if you can’t respect the man, respect the office he represents. There is never a good reason for a member of congress to behave like a Philadelphia Eagles fan booing Santa Claus. Was Wilson drunk? Was he lacking in “home training” as my mother would say? I highly doubt it. He knew what he was doing and did it anyway. It’s the old reporter’s adage — act first, apologize later.
Well, this outburst will likely not benefit Wilson. He’ll get a few attaboys back home in South Carolina, but for the most part he was an embarassment, soon to be used by Democrats as the symbol of the opposition — a crash, rude bumblebutt who doesn’t know when to shut up. Who isn’t interested in political discourse, but shit-talking. It’s his face and his name they will point to as why it is near impossible to get a bipartisan bill passed. How can you work with the opposition when the opposition can’t even keep a lid on it for a presidential speech? Don’t let the T-shirts fool you, the president is not your homeboy. You can holler at him all you like, but it is you who will end up looking like the fool.