Joe Wilson, Man of the Hour?

The Democrats and their press allies have decided to make Representative Joe Wilson’s interjection–“You lie!”–the main story of last night’s speech by President Obama on health care. Today at an airport gate, I was subjected to a half hour or so of CNN’s coverage of the Joe Wilson story. Little or nothing was said about the speech itself. Wilson’s remark is being treated as something unprecedented and of historic significance, as in this breathless Politico article:

All eyes were on President Barack Obama entering Wednesday night’s address to Congress, but a little-known South Carolina Republican may have done more than the president’s combative speech to unify besieged Democrats around health care reform.
The night’s defining moment — which Democrats hope to transform into a turning point — came when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” as Obama claimed his plan wouldn’t offer free care to illegal immigrants.
Wilson’s boorishness — for which he quickly apologized — enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.

Actually, I doubt that five percent of those watching Obama’s speech considered Wilson’s outburst the evening’s “defining moment.” Nor is there the slightest chance that Wilson’s comment will “unify besieged Democrats.” No Democrat fearful of losing his or her seat in 2010 by voting for unpopular health care legislation is going to jump on the President’s bandwagon because Wilson called him a liar. Nor will the incident be a “turning point” in the national health care debate, any more than the media’s efforts to demonize town hall participants became a “turning point” that favored the Democrats.
The main consequence of the Democrats and their allies focusing so much attention on Wilson is that it detracts attention from Obama’s speech. It is hard to understand how this can be a good strategy. Moreover, it is hardly good publicity for Obama to repeat endlessly the fact that a Congressman called him a liar, and that the subject was whether the Democrats’ health care bill will confer benefits on illegal immigrants. It surely will, as the Congressional Budget Office, for one, has pointed out–a fact that Obama tries hard to keep quiet.
Beyond that, the Democrats’ protestations about Wilson’s lack of civility ring hollow, to say the least. After all, Obama himself called Sarah Palin a liar in the very speech that so enraged Wilson. And do the Democrats really believe that voters have forgotten how they treated President Bush for the last six years of his administration? A voter would have had to spend those years in Albania not to know that “You lie!” was nicer than most of the things the Democrats had to say, both on and off the floors of Congress.
Here is just one example: Democrat Pete Stark in October 2007, speaking in the very chamber where Joe Wilson lost his temper last night. He begins by calling President Bush a liar, but that doesn’t even get him warmed up. His main allegation is that President Bush is sending young men to Iraq so that they will “get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.”

When Joe Wilson or any other Republican says something similar about President Obama on the floor of the House, let me know. Until then, when it comes to civility the only thing the Democrats can do is sit down and shut up.

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