What Republicans Don't Get About the Joe Wilson Meltdown

11/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


In the wake of South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson's very public, very disconcerting hissy-fit during President Obama's health-care-reform address to Congress Wednesday night, only one point matters: the requirement for protocol, decorum and respect for the office of the United States Presidency. Yes, this is America, and yes, as little kids like to often declare, "It's a free country, and I can say what I want!"

But that's just it. Little kids get to do that, not U.S. Congressmen in the hallowed halls of the House Chamber. That's just plain wrong and unacceptable, no matter what political party you belong to. And for Republicans and conservative talk-show hosts to now be waving the Joe Wilson flag as if it's some respectable badge of honor, portraying him as a patriotic hero and using his embarrassing case of political Tourette's as a rallying cry for the GOP, is truly despicable and a stain on America. Is nothing sacred anymore?

Take a quick listen to the right-wing media Axis-of-Evil, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, and you'll get the typically shameless rhetoric about how Wilson was doing his patriotic duty to speak up and yell, "You Lie!" after Obama said it was a lie to claim that his health care reform bill would provide coverage for illegal aliens. At that moment, Rep. Wilson just couldn't contain himself, blurting out his colossal dis like a petulant child. And now he has influential talking-heads like Hannity coming to his defense and taking up his 2010 re-election cause, featuring prominent links to the incumbent's website on

This is the same Hannity who is greeted by and greets his callers with the nauseatingly cultish "You're a great American!" Does being a great American mean shouting down the U.S. president during an address to Congress? Does being a great American mean supporting people who show blatant disrespect and disdain for the office of the presidency, the sanctity of the U.S. House Chamber, and the political protocols that have been respected since the birth of our nation? This makes you a great American? A patriot? A hero? This is someone who deserves conservatives' overwhelming support?

Since Thursday, Hannity and others have helped the now-vulnerable Wilson raise upwards of a million bucks so far for his upcoming battle against Democrat Rob Miller in South Carolina's historically Republican-safe 2nd Congressional District. Polls now even show Miller leading Wilson by a point, with 62% of voters disapproving of Wilson's outburst. Democrats need to mobilize and aggressively support Miller now. His website is (Click here to donate the dollars he's going to need to beat Wilson.)

The issue is this: Rep. Wilson is not some civilian who shouted his dissent at a truck stop rally. His words were not part of an interview on TV, radio or in the print media. He was not giving a rousing speech to constituents. He was not at a fiery town hall meeting. He was in a holy place to politicians; their equivalent of a church or a temple. His therefore blasphemous remark was truly unconscionable and deserves unified rebuking by those on the right and a Congressional reprimand or censure, as Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has suggested. House Democrats also intend to initiate a formal resolution chastising Wilson. A very important lesson needs to be made here.

I'm sorry, but some things are just not political. And we all need to be rational about it. I would just as soon excoriate a Democrat as I would Rep. Wilson if that Democrat committed the same reprehensible outburst. And if we as Americans cannot at some point lay down the partisan swords and at least agree that some behavior is simply irresponsible and unacceptable, then we are left with nothing. Then a very important line will have been crossed from which there'll be no return. Civility in politics, what little we know of it in the current climate, will be lost forever.