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Rep. Joe Wilson's shouting, "You lie!" to President Barack Obama during Obama's Sept. 9 televised speech on health care has drawn a variety of responses.
Many, including some of the South Carolina congressman's fellow Republicans, have expressed outrage.
"I cringed," Rep. David Dreier, the top-ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee, told USA Today. "I think it's just unfortunate."
Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent last year, told CNN it was "totally disrespectful" and was one of several Republicans to urge Wilson to apologize.
And Rob Miller, a Democrat who plans to run against Wilson in 2010, received more than $1.5 million in campaign donations in the days after Wilson's outburst.
But many seem to think Wilson's shouting was OK or even applaud such conduct, as Wilson also received $1.5 million in campaign donations in the ensuing week. William Browning, an attendee at a rally outside Wilson's office Sept. 11, said, "Joe's my hero. He said what we all wanted to say to Barack Obama."
Then there were those, including former President Jimmy Carter, who said Wilson's act was "based on racism." Carter added, "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."
In 2003 Wilson did call it "unseemly" and a "smear" for Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the mixed-race daughter of Sen. Strom Thurmond, to identify Thurmond as her father after his death. But we believe Wilson deserves the benefit of the doubt on the racism issue and we would like to see the nation get past the point that someone is called racist every time he disagrees with someone of another race.
Everyone has a right to disagree with Obama or any other politician about his health care and any other proposals. But the disagreement should be expressed respectfully and civilly in debates in bodies of government, town-hall meetings, letters to newspaper editors, etc.
Wilson did call White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to apologize after his remark but refused requests from both parties to apologize on the House floor and was admonished by the House for not doing so.
We believe he should have apologized to the House for violating its rules of conduct. House rules state that it is permissible for a member to refer to a presidential message as a "disgrace to the nation" but impermissible to call the president a "liar" or "hypocrite."
After his outburst Wilson said, "This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health-care bill. While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
Obama accepted Wilson's apology. But if his comment was merely a result of letting his emotions get the best of him, we think Wilson — and all politicians — should exercise better control of their emotions and make sure they can conduct themselves with proper decorum.
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