Thursday, September 10, 2009

Famous Last Words: Sept. 9th Edition

From what I posted yesterday:

They still have Obama's health care speech before Congress tonight to whine about.

From Congressman Joe Wilson (R-South "Yeah Like We Needed More A-Hole Politicians Screwing Up In Public" Carolina) during last night's Obama-Health Care speech before a join session of Congress:

You Lie!

Congratulations, Rep. Wilson (no relation to other Joe Wilsons out there)! You've just earned our Employee Jerkass of the Month Award!

Just some of the prizes you'll be taking home:

  • You've just won the immediate recognition from the entire world (well, outside of RedState and related blogs) for being a loudmouth douche!
  • You've just given your Democratic opponent Rob Miller in the 2010 midterms a major boost in fundraising ($150,000 by 8 am this morning)! Not to mention that your outburst, Mr. Wilson, can be used in all mudslinging campaign efforts by Mr. Miller cleanly and effectively. He doesn't have to hire a fake actor or edit your words out of context to make you look bad. You already made yourself look bad!
  • You've made the phrase 'faux pas' one of the most popular Google Search Terms ever this week! Well, other than Bunny+Lesbian+Fruit Salad+Porn.
  • You got your good colleague Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana) off the hook from trying to give a memorable official rebuttal to Obama's speech: no one else is even talking about it this morning! No stress for Boustany today!
  • You also get this nice dog whistle which you were supposed to use instead of the bullhorn you went with.

Seriously, what Wilson did last night was to take another boring rah-rah "This Is What I Want To Do" Presidential pep talk to Congress and turn it into a "OMG Do Not Go There Girlfriend" moment. Per Washington Monthly:

But the damage has been done. Indeed, Wilson's outburst is an almost perfect summation of 2009 -- President Obama appears big, Republicans appear small. Democrat show class, Republicans act like children. One side is serious, one side is shrill. The White House says something true, Republicans lash out with falsehoods.

The whole month of August with the town halls exploding with pre-planned outrage now appears like a bad dream - all storm and rage, all sound and fury - washed away by this one night. Everything the Republicans have been doing since Inauguration to tear Obama down - the refusal of the stimulus, the fight over Sotomayor, the health care debacle - has now been funneled into this one outburst - "You lie!" - that may seem so simple and yet is that one wafer thin mint puking the entire GOP effort into the trashbin.

Here's the thing. Wilson didn't have to shout out what he did when and where he did. Wilson could well have waited after the speech and make comments to the media accusing Obama of lying (and maybe not even those words, but dog-whistle phrases to clue in those listening for them): when done then, and to that audience, it's not that big of a deal. It actually happens a lot between politicians accusing each other of this thing or that act or those fruit salads. Also, if you listened to Obama's speech, despite what Steve Benen writes in that Washington Monthly article, you'd notice Obama did point that Republicans - in general, no names were named but you could see him point at Sarah Palin and others - were themselves lying about "death panels" and that illegals would get health care. Which is why Wilson shouted his response.

Wilson's problem is that he 1) openly called Obama a liar right in the middle of a speech, and 2) right there on the floor of Congress. Even though Obama was challenging the Republicans' statements and was effectively calling them liars in the process, it was by the rules of Oratory fair game for him to do so in a formal speech: go read Cicero, especially his Cataline orations. But what Wilson did was inexcusable. There's a reason Wilson's fellow Republicans in government (not the bloggers) aren't going out of their way to defend Wilson, and why Wilson immediately apologized afterward: HE VIOLATED DECORUM.

Remember Dick Cheney (oh yeah, like we're forgetting his criminal ass any time soon)? For all the violations of law, for all his endorsement of torture, for all his rule-breaking, the one thing he did that really got Congress in an uproar was that he privately told an opposing Senator to "Go F-ck Yourself" on the floor of the Senate. There was an honest-to-God debate over whether ethics charges could be filed against Cheney for what he said.

There are rules of behavior for Congress, and for all their clowning and incompetence the one thing that matters to them (well, the other thing that matters is their own job security, damn incumbents) is that they behave according to the rules. Wilson's outburst went against that. There are ways during a speech for members of the opposition party to act out: refusing to applaud at key moments, for example. But anything along the lines of, say, booing the speaker while acceptable at certain public events (if a stand-up comedian goes off the rails) is practically verboten at formal events such as Presidential speeches (Edit: see next paragraph).

It's disrespectful of the office. Even if you're opposed to the man, common decency insists that you Respect the Office. Which is why the likes of George W. Bush never received any of this disrespect even when the Democrats took over in 2007 and at a time when Dubya's polling numbers were lower than Truman's (which was the previous record holder for unpopularity: Nixon was reaching Truman's post-1950 numbers over Watergate when he resigned). Edit: Democrats did boo Dubya during the 2005 State of the Union, hence the strikethru. There is no question that was boorish behavior on the part of the Dems. The problem there is that unlike Joe Wilson there isn't one person to highlight being a douche, so the Dems get away with it due to sheer numbers.

Even when Clinton was in office and the GOP was in charge of Congress, you never heard this level of disrespect on the public floor. Even the impeachment trial over BLOWJOBS was done with some decorum (some).

And this had been the Republicans' biggest problem all this year: their animosity towards Obama - questioning his birth origin, comparing him to Hitler AND Fascists AND Communists AND a Secret Undercover Muslim, claiming he was ruining an already-wrecked economy - was getting so personal that they were disrespecting the duties and requirements of the Presidency itself. Why else was there a noticeable backlash in the media - after months of accepting some of the craziest conspiracy crap since Vince Foster - over the Republicans' "outrage" of Obama speaking to school kids to study hard?

Wilson's "You Lie" is in some respects overshadowing Obama's actual intent from last night. Obama was trying to claim a leadership position on the health care debate to get Congress to pass reform legislation before the year ends. Instead, all the blogs are aflame about Wilson's faux pas and half the mainstream media is chewing it up and spitting it out like they do all overblown outrages. But let's be very clear about this: Wilson's statement will do a far better job of rallying the Democrats to respond with their health care package and waking them up to how boorish their Republican colleagues have behaved all year than it will keeping the Republicans on message. Just look at their immediate responses: Democrats are sending truckloads of cash to Wilson's opponent and talking about censuring Wilson; Republicans are reeling and on the defensive in a way they haven't been since 2005.

Makes all that talk about Republican gains in next year's midterms seem foolish and uncertain now.

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