Heckling the President

Congressman Joe Wilson has received a lot of attention for heckling Obama during his speech last night. Wilson shouted “you lie” and later apologized. PolitiFact found that it was Obama who was right on the facts.

Joe Wilson’s conduct was found to be distasteful by American audiences but such heckling is commonplace in the British Parliament. If Wilson wants to act as if we are in the U.K., it is a shame that we don’t have universal health care as they do there. (I’m referring strictly to the concept of universal care–not to the specifics of the British plan.)

While such heckling doesn’t work in a prepared speech such as the one given last night, I wouldn’t mind if we also could have the President meet more informally with Congress and hold discussions comparable to those held in the British Parliament. It would be interesting to see Obama directly take on the misinformation being spread by the Republicans. I’m sure that Obama could easily handle their talking points, and demonstrate to viewers how empty the attacks from the right really are.

I previously responded to Obama’s speech here and responded to Sarah Palin’s op-ed, which repeats many of the right wing talking points, here.

Update: First Read believes this will harm the Republicans:

Well, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t help the GOP’s cause one bit. Indeed, the most effective part of Obama’s speech last night might not have been what he said — but rather what Wilson yelled: “You lie.” It could be an incredibly important moment for the president and the congressional Dem leadership because it does a couple of things: 1) paint a picture of the Republicans as ornery and hard to work with, and 2) remind conservative Democrats that they may not want to line up with folks like Joe Wilson when casting votes. Let’s be honest: Wilson did more to undermine the GOP’s efforts to come across as reasonable opposition as anything any conservative cable host has done in the past few months. Remember how conservatives were able to turn Cindy Sheehan into someone very difficult for the anti-war Democrats in Congress to support during the Bush years? Well, Wilson could end up providing that kind of symbolism. In short, he gave voice — literally — to the president’s attempts to paint some of his opponents as shrill…

Wilson apologized last night in a statement (“I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility”) and in a call to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. But the damage was done and it may take a long time to repair. It was a sad day in Washington that polarization has gotten so bad that a member of Congress thinks it’s appropriate to shout down the president. So what should Wilson’s punishment be? After all, it was a verbal sucker punch, and we just saw one football player get suspended for the year for a sucker punch. By the way, the DCCC tells First Read that in the eight hours since Wilson’s outburst, his Democratic opponent in 2010, former Marine Rob Miller, has received nearly 3,000 individual grassroots contributions, raising about $100,000.


  1. 1
    Leslie Parsley says:

    Wilson isn’t rying to emulate the UK but rather the KKK, maybe?

  2. 2
    Amy says:

    I can’t believe the inappropriate and disrespectful behavior towards our president.

  3. 3
    Ray says:

    This is not the equivalent of normal British parliamentary proceedings. Rather, it is more like an MP heckling the Queen during her annual address to parliament – utterly unheard of.
    The Wilson person is a tool, and his apology not worth the breath he took to utter it.  If it hurts the Republican party, he will at least have served some positive purpose in his miserable life.

  4. 4
    Nick says:

    As a teacher who is currently teaching his students about secession and the outbreak of the Civil War, I must say that Wilson’s statement is helping me tremendously. Wilson’s homestate of South Carolina was the first to secede in 1860. A southern politican was quoted as saying at the time “South Carolina is too small to be a state and too big to be an insane asylum.”
    I used that quote in my class and at first a lot of my students looked at me quizzically. In light of Wilson’s outburst, however, the quote makes perfect sense to them. It’s amazing that almost 150 years after secession that quote could be just as valid as it was then.

  5. 5
    Richard T says:

    The use of ‘liar’ or ‘lie’ would not be permitted in Parliament in debate or in the general melee although euphemisms are OK.  If the user refuses to back down he or she is named by the Speaker and must leave the Chamber  Churchill used terminological inexactitude to get round it.

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