One of the more interesting aspects of last night's presidential address was that here we had President Barack Obama being called a liar by a man named Joe Wilson -- just a few years after President George W. Bush was called a liar by a man named Joe Wilson.
Immediately, I wondered: "My God! Do I have enough here to write some sort of 'trend piece?'" And the answer is: Sort of! So, join with me now as we explore the question, "Who are these 'Joe Wilsons' and why do they continue to bedevil our presidents?"
Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson
Biography: "For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and ambassador. In 1990, as charge d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council."
What The President Told Congress: In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union address, Bush said: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa ."
What Joe Wilson Said: "Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." That's from a New York Times op-ed penned by Wilson, in which he described his trip to Niger in pursuit of claims that there were African links to Iraq's WMD program. His conclusion: "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
Was Joe Wilson Right?: Yes, he was right about the larger exaggerations, but most conclude that Bush, in the speech, was merely incorrect and not deceitful.
How Did The President React?: Well, a week after Wilson's op-ed ran, Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover officer in the CIA, effectively ending her career. Wilson accused the White House of leaking that information to Novak, prompting an epic grand jury investigation. But surely the White House had nothing to do with any of that, right?
What Was The Eventual Outcome?: Bush pledged to fire anyone involved in the leak but, in the end, he commuted the sentence of the only person convicted in the matter: Scooter Libby.
Fun Fact: The world found out about Scooter Libby's crazy book The Apprentice, which featured lots of insane perversity like children having sex with bears and hunters copulating with dead deer.
U.S. Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC)
Biography: Joe Wilson served as the Deputy General Counsel in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Energy. He was elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1984 and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, following the death of his predecessor, Floyd Spence.
What The President Told Congress: "There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants... This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."
What Joe Wilson Said: "You lie!"
Was Joe Wilson Right?: No.
How Did The President React?: He gave a stern glance in the general direction of Joe Wilson. Later, he subjected Wilson to a phone conversation with Rahm Emanuel.
What Was The Eventual Outcome?: Well, this remains unknown at this point but I'm sure that Obama would welcome several consecutive years of fawning deference from the press, similar to that President George W. Bush enjoyed in the years following his own Joe Wilson dust-up.
Fun Fact: Joe Wilson is not even named "Joe." His name is Addison. Also, Representative Joe Wilson has his own Iraq-WMD connection:
From today's Broward-Palm Beach New Times:
This isn't the first time Wilson has acted like a total ass while being on the wrong side of an issue. In 2002, when he was thumping for an invasion in Iraq, he claimed that another congressman, Bob Filner, had a "hatred of America" and was "viscerally anti-American." Why? Because Filner told the truth. The California Democrat noted that the U.S. supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons. Filner was right; Wilson was livid.
OTHER JOE WILSONS
Joseph R. Wilson: Joseph R. Wilson was the father of President Woodrow Wilson. He was also a "prominent Presbyterian theologian" so God knows that, when Woodrow got out of line as a kid, the scoldings were probably pretty severe. President Wilson helped the Allies win World War One in a desperate attempt to gain his father's approval.
Joseph Bearwalker Wilson: This Joe Wilson was an Air Force OSI agent who spied on servicemen protesting the Vietnam War. He provided testimony that led to the court-martial of Air Force Captain Thomas Culver. However, he was also CRAZILY INTO WEIRD WITCHCRAFT and you can just bet THAT didn't sit well with President Richard Nixon.
Joseph Chamberlain Wilson: How many presidents have faced an organized opposition fueled by widely distributed sets of talking points and portfolios of oppo research? A lot, I'd bet! Well, you can just bet that a significant amount of that paperwork was disseminated after being duplicated on a photocopier from the Xerox company, which was run by Joseph Chamberlain Wilson from 1946-1966.
Joseph G. Wilson: A Republican politician from Oregon, Wilson died while he was moving to Washington to assume his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, thus denying him the opportunity to heckle President Ulysses S. Grant. I like to think he would have tried!
One Last Fun Fact
Actor Robert Nichols played a character named Joe Wilson in the 1955 science fiction film This Island Earth. That Joe Wilson never bothered the fictional president but the movie was, oddly enough, about a race of aliens called the Metalunans who come to earth seeking -- what else? -- uranium, to fight their war against the Zagons! Now there's a task that obviously calls for a specific Joe Wilson!