Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and President Obama’s Errant Depiction of Healthcare and Its Application to Illegal Immigrants: a Suggested Alternative

–Richard E. Vatz

“Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who rudely and indefensibly yelled out ‘you lie!’ when President Barack Obama addressed immigration, apologized. He should apologize again…it was just appalling, and, rhetorically speaking, such childish rhetoric helps the president.”

In a recent blog on the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress, I ended with the above addendum relating to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson who traumatized the nation with his outburst. This a.m. (Saturday, September 12) I appeared for most of the “Kendel and [Gov.] Bob [Ehrlich] Show” on WBAL and expanded on my opinion regarding the now infamous Wilsonian shout-out (uh, “Wilsonian” in a non-traditional sense).

What follows below is a summary and further elucidation of today’s updated observations:

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As described by Associate Press journalists, Rep. Wilson yelled out “You lie” “after [President] Obama said extending health care to all Americans would not mean insuring illegal immigrants.” [President Obama: “There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”]

It has become an article of faith among many conservatives (and one with which this writer agrees) that the president plays somewhat fast and loose with his depictions of what is in and what is not in the healthcare bills in Congress. Specifically, the President’s claim that illegal immigrants would not be insured ignores the critical point that there is nothing to prevent their being insured, nothing to verify when an illegal immigrant is applying for healthcare insurance and some insuperable laws which prevent identifying healthcare-hungry illegals.

When Rep. Wilson yelled out “You lie,” he rhetorically committed a violation of decorum which allowed Democratic supporters to focus on the breach of etiquette committed when one interrupts a president, particularly during a presidential speech to a Joint Session of Congress.

Joe Biden predictably overreacted, saying he was “embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love.” Other Democrats demanded an apology beyond the contrition Rep. Wilson immediately articulated, arguing for an apology in the House of Representatives.

What should Joe Wilson have yelled out to deal with his apparently overwhelming frustration at listening to a president mislead his national and Congressional audience in an assumedly uninterruptable speech?

“Not true, Mr. President!”

Such an interruption would have stopped the momentum of a supremely gifted speaker who confidently felt that no specifics were necessary to reassure his audience that illegal immigrants would not be granted health insurance. (Don’t forget that the President’s sparseness of explanation also applied to other major issues, such as whether the public option would force out many private employers, the matter of whether abortion would be covered and the comprehensive psychiatric parity coverage, which, in this writer’s opinion, will further break the bank).

With “Not true, Mr. President,” the Democrats could have been upset that President Obama’s speech was interrupted but could not easily have affected being appalled.

With “Not true, Mr. President,” the attention of perhaps a majority of listeners and many of the media would have been focused on whether the President was accurately portraying the illegal immigrant issue.

With “Not true, Mr. President,” there would still have been a job threat ultimately to Rep. Joe Wilson, but not a credible one with legs.

“There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

Not true, Mr. President.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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