House Democrats plan to vote on a resolution today that will formally reprimand Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for his lack of tolerance when he shouted “You lie,” during President Barack Obama’s prime-time health care address last week to Congress, which was broadcast live on national television.

After Obama’s speech Wilson said he apologized to the President for his outburst but Democrats feel he should also apologize to Congress for what they are calling an unprecedented breach of decorum.

Wilson has refused saying his initial apology was good enough.

However, according to a USA Today/Gallup survey this week, the public appears to support Democrats in their charge against Wilson.

The survey says 68 percent of Americans oppose what Wilson did – and 23 percent said they were “outraged.” Even a majority of Republican’s disapproved of Wilson’s behavior, though only 8 percent were outraged, compared to 41 percent of Democrats.

Prior to his outburst, Wilson was known as someone who attracted little media attention.

Yet others see his new risen media exposure as a chance to shed light on the congressman’s questionable past.

For example, Wilson belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol. The flag is known as a symbol of celebrating the history of slavery and racial oppression in the U.S. south.

Wilson also denounced as “smear” the true claim of a Black woman who said she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the segregationist candidate for president in 1948.

Many see Wilson’s outburst as a broader problem and question if the role of racism is a factor in the way President Obama is being judged these days.

Wilson demonstrated a “shocking disrespect” for the office of the president, wrote Maureen Dowd in an opinion piece for the New York Times. “No Democrat ever shouted ‘liar’ at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq,” she said.

Town hall meetings over the last several weeks on health care reform have displayed intense anger among participants. Some carried signs calling for Obama’s death. Others are calling for a movement questioning his citizenship. Critics of these outrageous claims wonder if much of this is fueled by the fact that a Black man sits in the Oval Office.

“Some people just can’t believe a Black man is president and will never accept it,” wrote Dowd. “For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by Blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both,” she said.

Rep. David Scott, an African American Democrat from Georgia said he has received hate mail from voters during Congress’s August break.

Scott told the Washington Post that Wilson had just returned from rowdy town hall forums over the break at which the most heated accusations were leveled at Obama.

“I think he was caught up in the moment,” said Scott. “The issue is: Would he have done that if the president were white?” He added that too few Republicans opposed the “level of rhetoric” against Obama during August. “We’ve got to realize racism is playing a role here. I’m hopeful that this will be a wake-up call for us to get it off the table.”

Rather than apologize to Congress, Wilson, in a show of defiance was the first Republican to speak when the chamber opened for a round of brief speeches Monday. He hailed the “patriots” who attended his August town hall forums and opposed a “government takeover” of the health care system.

Despite Wilson’s failed opportunity to formally apologize, many Democrats, particularly Black leaders see race as a factor and say allowing Wilson’s insult to stand without action would set a bad precedent. The planned resolution today would put the House on record as condemning Wilson’s behavior.

Meanwhile, Wilson’s 2010 Democratic opponent Rob Miller, a former Marine and Iraq war veteran has raised more than $1.5 million since the outburst last week.

“Americans need a real debate on health insurance reform, and real relief from skyrocketing health care costs,” said Miller. “But as Congressman Wilson showed with his outburst last week, there are still a lot of Washington politicians who put politics ahead of solving problems.”

Some congressional leaders feel the Wilson incident shouldn’t get too much attention and that lawmakers must not be distracted. Rather, lawmakers should continue to work steadfast in reaching consensus on the very important issue at hand, namely passing health care reform, they say.

plozano@pww.org

 

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