Joe Wilson (R-SC) may have saved his political career by issuing a public apology for his outburst at President Obama last night, but I’m not holding my breath.
As a Republican working and living among the bluest of blues in Boston, I understand how frustrating it can be to listen to bleeding-heart liberals talk about their plans to save the world. But I also understand the importance of political give-and-take, and the first “give” has got to be respect. Publicly, in front of a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, calling anyone a liar, never mind the President of the United States, knocks Wilson, as well as the GOP as a whole, down a few notches in the give-and-take game.
It is not like Wilson does not have enough outlets to voice his disagreement with the president’s health care plan “" his Congressional website, Fox News, Facebook, a Twitter account he last updated on Labor Day, with no mention of the President’s health care plan. I support public disagreement with the President in the appropriate forums, but as a conservative (and also a political science major with a keen interest in the American Presidency), I believe the Presidential office should be sacred “" a symbol of America, like the flag. If you disagree with a national policy, you would not turn your flag upside down. Likewise, I don’t believe you should mock the president. Belittling him belittles everything we stand for as Americans, as he was freely elected by our fellow citizens.
Wilson’s childish outburst also undermined his party’s cause. The media is not asking Republican politicians what they think of the President’s health care plan; they are asking what they thought of Representative Wilson’s outburst. Was it justified? The potential for a deep and insightful national conversation about healthcare has been lost to some political name-calling. Media outlets like CNN are also noting the number of conservatives who are defending Wilson on Twitter. Health care was not the number one trending Twitter topic last night, Joe Wilson was.
Wilson’s public disagreement may be protected by the First Amendment, but is a diluted representation of the kind of disagreement that should be protected. Wilson should back up his position that he made so public with an intelligent op-ed in a major newspaper, citing reasons for his outburst. Maybe then he can protect the GOP from being mislabeled as a party of immature extremism, but rather as one of true ideas that are simply different from those being place on the table by the President.