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Joe Wilson's heckling: a missed opportunity for Obama?

Joe Wilson 240 Pundits expressed childlike astonishment over GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's heckling of Barack Obama during the president's speech to Congress Wednesday night on healthcare reform. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said the comments by the South Carolina Republican marked "yet another low" in the healthcare debate, a rote observation that will doubtless be made again in the future.

Wilson's outburst to Obama -- "You lie!" -- was beyond the pale, but I'd be lying myself if I said I wasn't entertained, if briefly. I was also disappointed by the president's immediate response to Wilson -- "That's not true" -- in which he passed up a rare chance to directly refute, when he actually had everyone's attention, what he says are the distortions and scare tactics used by opponents of healthcare reform. Instead, the president cordially accepted Wilson's apology after a Cabinet meeting this morning. The president was offered the baseball equivalent of a belt-high fastball tossed to a power hitter, and rather than step back from the teleprompter and swing away, he bunted. 

The catcalls at the speech reminded me of the regular debates held in Great Britain's House of Commons, the U.K. equivalent of our House of Representatives that Robin Williams once quipped is "like Congress with a two-drink minimum." C-SPAN occasionally broadcasts proceedings of the British House, during which the prime minister regularly faces a grilling (heckling included) by members of Parliament; I recommend you tune in when you can. Beyond the entertainment value, it's refreshing to watch a government's highest official regularly answer for his policies, a sharp contrast to the cocoon from which our presidents only occasionally emerge to engage the public. One can only imagine how public opinion may have been influenced in the run-up to the Iraq war if President Bush had to be called to the mat regularly over his administration's case for an invasion.

Below is a sample of a House of Commons debate. There's heckling, shouting and more, but forcing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to actually actually stand in front of his opponents and defend his government's actions and policies combines accountability with old-fashioned entertainment. Makes you think more Americans would pay regular attention to lawmaking if we even somewhat resembled our British friends.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo credit: AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais


Comments () | Archives (34)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Robert G

South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson is the only one in congress brave enough to say what everybody else already knows.

Wilson for president 2012

Michael J. McFadden

I can't speak to the truthfulness of the immigration claim but we *DO* know that Obama lied quite openly and blatantly to the American people on June 21st's "Today Show" when he said, quoting here, "The only tax change I've made in the 6 months I've been here is to cut people's taxes."
- - -
He said that - despite the indisputable fact that he raised cigarette taxes by 150% and raised the tax on one of the poorest well-defined minority groups in the country, smokers so poor they roll their own from shreds of tobacco and scraps of paper, by OVER TWO THOUSAND PERCENT (from $1/lb to $24/lb). See :
- - -
- - -
for the quick video clip and full story. Obama does, most definitely, lie. And he can't back out of it with "We all make mistakes." either: That tax was one of his first and highest profile actions upon taking office AND he even interrupted the interviewer specifically to state that particular lie.
- - -
Michael J. McFadden,
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Mark Wright

Joe Wilson is an embarrassment to our party. He owes our good state and the Republicans that voted for him an apology.


In all the years that G.W.B was in office there was never heckling like this.
Step aside rethugs your days of scare tactics and misinformation are over YOU are the liars and brought nothing but shameful behavior to U.S. politics.

Charles G

Whatever Robert G. "YAWN"


The comparison has it's limitations however due to the fact that our founders determined the President would be both chief executive AND head of state. In Britain heckling the chief executive (prime minister) during remarks is standard operating procedure. Heckling the head of state (the Queen) would be a breech of decorum.


Go has got to go! Please help his opponent who is an Iraqi war vet http://www.actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/19079


Republicans are just loud mouth idiots! Everyone knows that.

Jim M

The heckling disruption in British parliament is disgusting, and no...I never want to see it here; the lack of manners in Congress is bad enough already. Plus...the poster mentioning that the Queen is treated with decorum is well said, and applies for the same reason to our President, no matter who is holding the office at the time (no Democrat did this during Bush's term, in other words). As for 'lying' re: cigarette taxes, parse your words any way you like, but I for one have zero sympathy for 'poor' smokers who no longer can afford their cancer sticks--we the people pay for the cost of caring for the illnesses brought on by their irresponsible behavior, and as such, we have every right to have a say in the smoking debate, and raise the taxes right out the sky, so make it completely unaffordable to any kid thinking of starting to smoke (studies clearly show that if you don't start smoking before age 21, you probably never will).

stephanie mowry

Dear Rep Wilson, How dare you disrespect our President? If he were someone else would you be so crass? You are not fit to hold office because Congress does not act this way. Go back to S Carolina with the rest of the ignorant rednecks. You should feel honored that we have such an honest, intelligent, and fair person holding the executive office and that for the 1st time in a long time we can be proud to be an American. Call Bush a liar...he got us into war knowing there was no wmds! And no I am not Black...I am white. Obama you make me proud. Stephanie Mowry, RN


The Speaker should have required Wilson to make apology before the full House from the Well. He insults the whole House by heckling their guest. Even worse when the guest is the President of the United States.

Oscar A.

To author Paul Thornton -

Sounds like you'd LOVE these:


Which IQ test do I have to fail to become a Republican? I'm looking forward to the Palin-Wilson ticket in 2012. Go morons!


South Carolina has a long list of dignitaries that includes Lauren Caitlin Upton (Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant contestant), Governor (and avid Appalachian hiker), Mark Sanford and now Joe “the hater not a debater” Wilson or the “screamer not the dreamer” as others have dubbed him. I did enjoy him cut and running through his apology, which only goes to show that he stands for nothing. He is just another good old boy where in the morning these married men preach to you that there should be prayer in our schools and in the evening they are on their cell phones setting up a date with their other women on the side, hypocrisy has been bred in. I am not surprised that he felt compel to yell like he was at some Friday night game. So long Joey, you too will be seeing the unemployment lines.

Jim Pease

The vast Armada of big business interests that stand to lose profits if any meaningful reform is enacted makes the mouth of demagogue’s water. I Notice Joe Wilson R-SC gets the loins share of donations from, AstraZeneca PLC, American Hospital Assn, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Blue Cross/Blue Shield,etc. are in top 20 donations. Medical and insurance groups are his top 2 out of 5 so "You Lie" was doubtless no accident of impassioned thought but planned and paid for by interested players. Did Obama make his case? It depends on how deep you dig into the power players D.C. is corruption and opportunism personified. Corporation run the media , the media determine the discourse. In the age of pundits, demagogues, and nitwits it’s anybodies guess.


The Democrates booed Bush. Harry Reid called him a liar and a loser, so don't act like this is the first time for this.
Besides, Joe Wilson was right, Obama was not telling the truth according to the nonpartisan research arm of Congress-

"President Obama's assertion that illegal alien would not be covered under AAHCA is directly contradicted by an August 25 report, Treatment of Noncitizens in H.R. 3200, issued by the Congressional Research Service. The nonpartisan research arm of Congress concluded, "H.R. 3200 does not contain any restrictions on noncitizens - whether legally or illegal present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently - participating in the [Health Insurance] Exchange."

Once in the Exchange, participants are free to enroll in the government run health insurance program. This public option, established under H.R. 3200, would be heavily or entirely subsidized by the American taxpayers. While illegal aliens are barred from receiving "affordability credits" to help pay
for private insurance, CRS noted the absence of any mechanism in the bill to verify citizenship or legal residency."


yes obama did tell a few untruths last evening and didn't reid call bush a lier on a couple ocasions so why the fuss now i didn't hear any fuss last time around

Rama Barnwell

The only missed opportunity was a missed teaching moment. I would have liked the President to have faced Mr. Wilson and said to him "We can disagree. But we do not have to be disagreeable, Sir." Paused for a respectful moment and then continued his address to Congress.


Joe just said what everyone already knows they already get free health care and everything else from the goverment.when is Hector going to write his next article about the poor illegals I thought he would be all over this.

David Blackburn

I'm sure Mr. Wilson would have never done that to a white president. I was down in Charleston and saw a pre-adolescent boy go up to a maid at the hotel and say "Ni.... get me a towel." Why didn't Lincoln just let them succeed?


When is Semper Fi going to tell him to ,"Eat your Gun" , you are a disgrace to the corps.

Benee Hopson

Even if you don't respect the man, you must respect the position. Like it or not, Barack Obama is the President of the United States. One can say what one wishes at the appropriate time but to call the President a liar in the middle of a Presidential Address to a Joint Session of the United States Congress was definitely not the proper place. Wilson should be censured.

True, I am a Democrat. But I am saddened for my friends who are Republicans (yes, I actually have some and we are each sure that the others will be cured of their political malady soon). Their party used to stand for true values and conducted itself with dignity. Now they've been hijacked by screaming crazies who got their debating skills from the Jerry Springer show. William F. Buckley must be spinning in his grave.


I agree that a little more informality and openness in our legislature, even heckling like the Brits do, would be good.

Calling the President of the United States a liar is not heckling.

Ramstein AFB


What you pictured there is a *debate.* The President's speech to a Joint Session of Congress is not a debate. And no matter how raucous it looks, the debate you just saw has actual rules.

The President is not quite the same thing as a Prime Minister. In my high school civics class, I learned that the President is also Head of State, and he (or she) is treated accordingly.

There is a huge, huge difference between saying "President X is lying" in a press conference or a Sunday AM talk show and screaming it out in the middle of someone else's speech. No one ever, ever, EVER screamed "YOU LIE!" to George W. Bush, and heaven knows that any member of the public who *might* have yelled such a thing while the cameras were rolling were kept far away.

Rep. Wilson should have been silenced with the gavel or escorted from the room, because he was being *disruptive.* Instead, he got the hairy eyeball. And now that he's had his nanosecond of fame, I say "Next!" He will go down in history as " . . ...who?"


well, joe wilson was totally a dope. he was right that illgals do receive benefits and obama was wrong. as per the congressinal research service (The Congressional Research Service (CRS) serves shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. CRS experts assist at every stage of the legislative process — from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities.)

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Tuesday, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the "research arm" for the United States Congress, issued a report validating an analysis by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), that illegal aliens would be able to receive benefits under the House health care reform bill, America's Affordable Health Care Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200).

The report, Treatment of Noncitizens in H.R. 3200, states definitively, "H.R. 3200 does not contain any restrictions on noncitizens - whether legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently - participating in the Exchange." H.R. 3200 establishes a Health Insurance Exchange which would provide individuals and small businesses with access to health care plans, including the "public option" to be managed by the government.

the problem with joe's assertion is that BHO had to KNOW he was wrong. what in joe wilson mind would make him think that BHO KNOWS anything that is going on, in anything? in any legsilation. he's never written any. he hasnt really had a real job. so joe wilson must apologize. he thought obama knew what he was saying was wrong; therefore a lie. he didnt. he's not that bright, and too ill-informed to lie about it. dumbass joe. unless of course the congress's own researching department was lieing. or maybe they are just racists!!!

Michael J. McFadden

Jim M wrote, "as for 'lying' re: cigarette taxes, parse your words any way you like, but I for one have zero sympathy for 'poor' smokers who no longer can afford their cancer sticks"

Jim, the amount of sympathy you have for a minority group is totally irrelevant to the question of whether the President lied on national TV. He lied, just as clearly as if Bill Clinton had said, "I did not have taxual relations with that cigar." while wearing Monica's tobacco-stained dress.

Jim also wrote, "we the people pay for the cost of caring for the illnesses brought on by their irresponsible behavior,"

No Jim. You do not. I've researched this subject carefully and devoted an entire Appendix to it in my book. You can read it for free right here online at:


and you're welcome to come back and offer any actually substantive criticisms of anything I wrote there. I think you'll find that it's quite clearly the smokers of America who are subsidizing the nonsmokers. And it's the smokers who are paying the taxes to care for the children through S-CHIP because Congress and the President knew nonsmokers were too selfish to care.

And finally Jim wrote, "studies clearly show that if you don't start smoking before age 21, you probably never will." That's quite true Jim. And the same can be said about drinking alcohol. How about we increase alcohol taxes by 2,000% and then go on TV and claim we've raised no taxes. Do you think that would fly high?

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"


Did you notice Briton's lack of diversity in that video. No Black caucus, actually no Blacks at all...


I applaud South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson for his honesty and courage in the face of the "thug club" who support the greatest threat to America, Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama's failure to recognize that a majority of legal Americans do NOT want a government run health care will only inflame the issue. We do not want socialism invading the fabric of this great country.
The march on Washington today, 9/12/09, by thousands of angry Americans protesting this administration, and the liberal democrats who are destroying this country, will only get worse.
We will right the wrong in the next election.


Where it was Mr. Wilson when Bush started the war in Iraq because they had WMD?

The situation in this country is getting very dangerous. The extreme right wing party it could created a huge social conflict.

Now, it's time for the rest of the media to work hard to counteract the craziness. It's not only the President who is in danger, it's the entire country.


Some call Joe Wilson a great statesman, and are even proud of his “Shout Out”, so lets see, he says, he was told by the Republican leadership to apologize (he did not realize the magnitude of his mistake), he then gives his weak “not for reals” apology, but then goes on to those “Commentator Talk Shows” and basically says he real was not wrong and plays the victim card and calls for people to send in for money to support him for re-election. Had he kept quiet after his apology, that might have been the end of it but now that people know he lied about the apology the story will continue, until he is out of a job and the funny thing is, he does not see it coming. This summer has been rough for his beleaguered political party. At least he did not end up on the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC). In my opinion the Republican Party has been taken over the most extreme religious right (people who love to push their beliefs on others while trying to take away the rights of those they just hate) and that’s who they need to extract from their party if they real want to win. Good Luck, because as they said in WACO, “We Ain’t Coming Out”. The bithers, the teabaggers, the screamers, and the deathers continued extreme minority presence will become tiresome to mainstream America, if it has not already done so.


The Population of USA on the last count was 304.059.724 people and the stimulus bill passed by Congress cost the tax payer $787 billion or more. Think for a moment the average American spends money when they have it, and why is there a recession, no one is spending money. If the American government would have gave every person 1 million dollars each it would have cost the tax payer far less that the stimulus plan and the recession would be over, so giving 1 million to all would have been cheaper and better for all.

Michael J. McFadden

Ron, sounds like a good idea, but you misplaced a thousand in your decimal points. 304 million times a thousand dollars is 304 billion. If you tried to give everyone a million dollars it would cost 304 *trillion* dollars. - MJM

Jon Healey

@Ron -- Your math's a bit off. Giving every American $1 million would cost the taxpayers $300 trillion. If the $787 billion stimulus package had been handed out as one-time cash payments, it would have translated into about $2,500 per person.


I don't support what Joe Wilson did but it did make me look into the bill farther and find that it was true what he said. This just made me angry with Obama. What makes him think he can lie to the American People! Illegal Aliens will receive coverage because it says in the bill that a person does not have to prove citizenship for coverage. As for abortion the federal gov. is one step away from funding that. Many states already fund abortion. Obama has lied before but I am done trying to just see if people can find compromise. REPUBLICANS ARE IDIOTS! DEMOCRATS ARE IGNORANT! Vote Libertarian!



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