Commentary: Joe Wilson's 'you lie' was way out of line

The State (Columbia, S.C.)September 11, 2009 

Rep. Joe Wilson was right: His "You lie" outburst during President Obama's address to the Congress Wednesday night was "inappropriate and regrettable." He did display an appalling "lack of civility."

Breaking decades (centuries?) of protocol by shouting down the president in the House chamber would be behavior beyond the pale even if Mr. Wilson had been right. The egregious nature of this incident is merely compounded by the fact that the president was much, much closer to the truth than his critics when he flatly denied that his health care legislation would provide benefits to illegal aliens. (It would have been far more appropriate for Mr. Obama to give a nuanced denial, but Mr. Wilson was kind enough to obliterate that distinction by handing the president a perfectly timed example of how opponents have abandoned civility for barroom behavior.)

Certainly, some politicians would have bragged about this rather than apologize. Still, the apology that Mr. Wilson fired off after a couple of hours of intense attacks from across the political spectrum was the least he could do; an apology to the Congress, and to his constituents, should be next. His behavior reflects very badly on someone who always has been seen as a gentleman. He certainly wasn't on my top three list of suspects when the president's heckler was identified as a S.C. Republican; although he has been a dogmatic parrot of the Republican Party line for the entire two decades I've known him, I expected far better of him.

His actions also reflect badly on our state. As if our state needed yet another embarrassment — and another excuse for businesses to steer clear of us and snub whatever job recruitment efforts state officials are undertaking.

Most troubling, though, is the degradation of civil discourse that it represents.

To some, Mr. Wilson's outburst was heroic; that's appalling. Even if you honestly believe that the president's proposals would do harm to our society, or that he is lying, this is no way to express that idea, and good Southerners, of all people, do not applaud it.

To read the complete column, visit www.thestate.com.

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