As you may know, Wilson, a Republican representative from South Carolina, shouted out, "You lie" when President Obama told Congress on Wednesday night that his health insurance coverage plans would not include illegal immigrants. Wilson subsequently apologized to the White House. But that set off the conservative punditocracy, which expressed loud outrage over the equally loud outrage at Wilson's admittedly boorish behavior.
Got all that?
OK, it's been a hot partisan summer and the temptation is to dismiss this episode as another one of those "only in Washington" moments, where a meme spreads and any semblance of rational argument winds up getting lost in the predictable he-said, she-said cacophony. But this one deserves special mention considering what we've seen in the last 24 hours. To wit:
• John McCain, who called out Wilson's behavior as unacceptable, was called out by paleo-conservatives as a Republican Benedict Arnold.
• Michelle Malkin led her post on the condemnations of Wilson with the headline, "Unruly moment, manufactured outrage."
• HotAir.com, accused the president of starting with a lie. "Where this jackass gets off lecturing Americans on civility after his cretinous cronies spent a month demagoging the hell out of every protester in sight is beyond me. You're Mr. Clean, aren't you, champ? And bottom-feeders like Harry Reid are your hatchet men. Nice work if you can get it." Lovely.
• A more restrained take was offered by Instapundit's reliably excellent Glenn Reynolds. But while acknowledging that Wilson behaved "like a jerk," Reynolds spoke for many on the right when he contended that "Wilson has a point." Reynolds wrote: "I'm finding it hard to get excited about this. It was a breach of decorum and civility. But someone who says "get in their face" and "punch back twice as hard" has little standing to bring that up. If you want to benefit from traditions of civility, you should respect them, and that has hardly been a hallmark of this administration, which has gone out of its way to try to demonize and shout down opponents."
It's appropriate to ask whether Wilson indeed had a point. Since Congress still doesn't have a single bill to vote on, you can pick and parse the question until the cows come home. Earlier this summer, the president told CBS's Katie Couric that while illegal aliens would not qualify for healthcare protection under his proposal, he allowed that there may need to be exceptions for children. See a more detailed discussion of this question by my colleague Declan McCullagh.)
Again, if this discussion becomes a question of "who lied," then the Democrats lose. Healthcare reform is their big enchilada. The administration can't afford to get caught up in a game of liar liar, pants on fire. Been there, done that - thrice so far in 2009. Remember the Henry Louis Gates flap in July? The president spent nearly an entire press conference talking about health care. But most folks only recall his remarks about Gates' arrest in Cambridge and the ensuing media feeding frenzy.
The GOP has been brilliant in opposition. Outnumbered and outspent, it still has found ways to change - and dominate - the storyline. Republican operatives have even gone so far as to adopt some of the attention-grabbing tactics pioneered by leftie Saul Alinsky.
So it was that in the spring, the tea parties forced news coverage to shift focus. It was no longer about the government finding fixes to a collapsing economy. Instead, it was about a "mass movement" furious about out-of-control taxes, bailouts, and reckless government spending.
Congress went on recess in August and the Democrats hoped they could sell health care reform to the folks back home. And what happened? We got caught up in a phony debate over "death panels" and the looming threat of socialism.
For the record, there is a fine bi-partisan tradition of loutish behavior. Here's a clip of Democrats booing George Bush during the 2005 State of the Union Speech. And here are the Bronx cheers which greeted Bush when he was introduced to the crowd awaiting the Obama inauguration.
The late, great George Carlin once noted that when you're born, you receive a ticket to the freak show. And when you're born in the U.S., you get handed a front row seat. Too bad Carlin's not still around. He would have known how to turn this latest round of silliness into hilarious fodder. Unfortunately, what's left for the rest of us to observe is pathetic, at best.