Joe Wilson makes a name for himself

JOE WILSON MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF…. Ostensibly, the Republican response to President Obama’s health care speech was delivered after the address to a joint session by Rep. Charles Boustany (R) of Louisiana.

But as a practical matter, the de facto GOP response came about 40 minutes into the president’s remarks. He explained, “There are … those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

It prompted Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina to interrupt the speech, heckle the president, and shout, “You lie!

There are a few important angles to this. The first is substantive. When Wilson accused the president of lying, Wilson was, in fact, lying. Even in Congress, facts should matter, and the right-wing Republican wasn’t just obnoxious with his idiotic interruption, he was also wrong.

The second is personal. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress, said, “Whoever shouted out that the president was lying is a dumbass.” John McCain denounced Wilson’s outburst as “totally disrespectful.” While right-wing blogs were thrilled, Republican lawmakers have been entirely unwilling to defend Wilson’s behavior.

The third is contextual. President Obama couldn’t have been more magnanimous last night, highlighting a plan that “incorporates ideas from many people in this room tonight, Democrats and Republicans.” He made frequent references to Republican lawmakers and even George W. Bush. Obama even talked up medical malpractice reform. It was in this context that Wilson decided to lash out? As Gail Collins noted this morning, “Let me go out on a limb and say that it is not a good plan to heckle the president of the United States when he’s making a speech about replacing acrimony with civility.”

The fourth is practical. While Dems have been divided of late on policy specifics, they were unified last night — they loved Obama and they hated Joe Wilson. Indeed, I’ve seen reports that Wilson’s Democratic opponent next year, Rob Miller, suddenly saw a wave of new campaign contributions in the wake of Wilson’s conduct.

It’s striking that Wilson, unable to find any support from his allies, quickly apologized. He said his emotions got the best of him, and issued a statement that said, “While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He spoke directly to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last night to express his regret.

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.

To be sure, Wilson is a buffoon, from whom very little is expected. He’s hosting Glenn Beck minions at his office this weekend, and is a reflexive, right-wing clown masquerading as a congressman. He embarrassed himself, his party, and his institution last night, but it’s unlikely Wilson actually cares whether he’s a disgrace or not. Bruce Bartlett noted this morning, “He’s become the new Sarah Palin of the Republican Party, where one’s popularity is in inverse proportion to one’s stupidity — the stupider a Republican is these days the more popular he or she becomes.”

What will be interesting to see if there are any real consequences. There’s been some talk of censure, or demanding that Wilson deliver a formal apology to the House itself.