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Will the Honorable Gentleman please shut his yap?

September 11, 2009 |  7:23 am

Someone told me that one line of defense being trotted out for South Carolina Republican congressman Joe Wilson's ill-bred and uncouth shout of ''You lie!'' at President Obama is that that sort of thing is done all the time in Britain's House of Commons.

Would Rep. Wilson, the small-y yahoo (original meaning from Jonathan Swift's ''Gulliver's Travels''), indeed have fit right in in that ''Mother of Parliaments,'' where the cut and thrust of debate extends to a lot of raised voices?

Yes and no. Shouting and catcalls are part of the culture in the Commons, and an entertaining sight it can be, too. But rules that go back more than a century and a half enjoin members from making accusations about lying or being drunk. Winston Churchill, a tippler of note and an orator of the first water who may never have been called out under the ban on the latter, himself tiptoed around the former by referring to an opponent's ''terminological inexactitude.''

Rep. Wilson's rudeness was not only perhaps a disappointment to his mother and a violation of Section 370 of House rules, but saying that President Obama was lying about illegal immigrants and health care was factually insupportable, as many political fact-checking and news organizations scrambled to find out before the gasps in the House chamber had subsided.

So, would it be fine to behave like the British when it comes to an outburst in Congress, but not when it comes to British health care programs? Heck, give me a public option, and I'd let Congress holler its  collective heads off.

As for Rep. Wilson, he may have positioned himself to become the popular choice for standard bearer of a recrudescence of an old American political movement. Call it the Neo-Know Nothings.

-- Patt Morrison

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