Forget censuring Congressman Joe "You Lie" Wilson. The Democrats should give him a merit plaque. His two blasphemous words were a dream-come-true for the Democrats. Rivers of cash instantly flowed into the Democratic National Committee coffers. It quickly made his almost sure-to-be beaten Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, a serious competitor.
"You Lie" Wilson did as much as the nearly 45 minutes of Obama's reasoned and measured pitch for a compromised health care plan to help the president win back -- momentarily at least -- a big chunk of the public. His double-digit overnight bump in approval ratings was a bigger and faster reversal in political fortune than Truman's presidential upset of Dewey in 1948.
Two days before his make or break health care speech, things looked gloomy for Obama. His approval ratings had taken the biggest and fastest nosedive of any president in recent memory.
"You Lie" Wilson incited the bickering, rapidly fracturing, groping Democrats to rally 'round the president. "You Lie" also -- again, for the moment -- put the brakes on the fast accelerating GOP's counterinsurgency against Obama. In prior weeks, the insurgency had won hands-down the public opinion and propaganda war against the administration. "You Lie" Wilson even forced anti-Obama ringmaster Rush Limbaugh to take momentary pause in his diesel speed assault, and instead attack Republicans for groveling. Limbaugh was apoplectic that congressional Republicans forced Wilson to apologize for his loose tongue.
The outburst from "You Lie" was manna from heaven for the Democrats. It came at the right time, in the right place, with the right audience (millions viewed nationally) and against the right target: the president.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that "You Lie" had a check in his back pocket from the DNC. But that would be giving way too much credit to the DNC and too little to the GOP. The GOP's long history of shoot-from-the-hip racist and homophobic slurs, gaffes, digs, and insults (always followed by the kind of wink and nod apology of the kind that Wilson gave to Obama) was just the latest in a string of patented insults. The GOP has proved that it's more than capable of shooting itself in both its feet and torso at the same time.
"You Lie," for the moment, did one more thing for the Democrats that they seem utterly terrified to do, and that's talk back to the GOP. The Democrats tottered on the verge of being widely written off in disgust as the party that badly squandered the political capital it banked in November. "You Lied" instantly changed all that.
"You Lie," even after the national firestorm, is still doing yeoman service for the Democrats. Check his website joewilsonforcongress.com. His apology notwithstanding, "You Lie" doesn't miss a beat:
I am not sorry for fighting back against the dangerous policies of liberal Democrats. I will not back down. Will you stand with me today and help me fight back against liberal attacks by making a donation to my campaign?
"You Lie" is a Hollywood casting dream for the Democrats. Censure "You Lie" Wilson? Heck no. The Dems, if they're smart, will polish up a shiny plaque for him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.