The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.
Is this the other side of the argument I was making last week?
I'm an advocate of free speech and robust debate. While that does not mean I condone outbursts like Joe Wilsons, my first inclination is to dismiss them as an act of stupidity. I am aware also that it can be dangerous giving too much air time to incidents like this – in such a way molehills can become nasty mountains.
There is another angle though. I am not close enough to the cut and thrust of US society on a daily basis. I read a lot – more than most – and like most people in the western world am exposed to US culture through movies and TV, and the big headlines that make the daily papers. No matter how closely I read I do so from a perspective that is not American – which is both a positive and a negative.
Dowd suggests in her article that Wilson's outburst was the explosive consequence of simmering racism. I can't say yay or nay to that because I don't walk American streets, don't listen to the conversations in American bars and coffee shops, am not exposed to the nuances of the discussion there. In this case I have to bow to Dowd, a seasoned correspondent and there on the spot.
One thing Joe Wilson's outburst seems to have done is to lift the lid on some unsavoury divisions on the political stage. As I suspected it would his comments and the publicity following them seem to have brought the extremists out of the woodpile. At the same time it is being reported more commonly even here that there is a racial tinge to much of what is happening – which Down explicitly alludes to.
In the end what do you believe? I'm tending to think that opposition to Obama is not all about his politics. If that's true then it's hardly new, but is very disappointing. And if it's true then the likes of Joe Wilson should be called out. As Dowd quotes in her article, silence gives consent.