You have to feel sorry for Joe Wilson, that nonentity of a congressman from South Carolina who yelled, "You lie!" at the president as he spoke to a joint session of Congress last week.
Wilson has had to cope with a lot of trauma in his own life. Not Vietnam; he managed to dodge that by going to law school. But socially, just think of it; he is old enough (62) to remember when the coloreds knew their place, which was shuffling in the street and being lynched.
He started school in an era when no little nigra could have even dreamed of going to school with whites, not in the state that started the Civil War. But then, when he was 7, came Brown vs. Board, the U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the schools.
The Civil Rights Bill followed when little Joe was 17. Eventually, Wilson did get to be an aide to Strom Thurmond, but by that time the good old days were gone. He spent six years in the South Carolina state Senate, and then, when the incumbent died on the job eight years ago, lucked into a House seat from a district shaped almost exactly like a sea horse.
Sadly, Joe's career has been nondescript, remarkable only in his slavish devotion to George W. Bush and his wars. (Former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia called him a "chicken hawk.") Gradually, people began to see through the shrub. The world was becoming progressively uneasy for Wilson too. Even back in Sea Horse Acres, they weren't quite as in love with old Joe as they used to be. When he was elected to his first full term in 2002, he got an impressive 84 percent of the vote. However, those numbers have dropped every time since. Last year, running against an underfunded Democrat, he slipped to only 54 percent.
And on that same night, the unthinkable happened:
A black man named Barack Obama was elected president. That's right, president of the Yew-nited States of America. You can't imagine how that might make a one-time Thurmond aide feel.
We don't know how Strom himself would have felt, because the old senile racist finally croaked six years ago, leaving an illegitimate black daughter behind. But it had to have been hell on Joe, especially last week, when the president addressed a joint session of Congress.
President Obama is, as you may know, trying to get Congress to pass meaningful health care reform for this nation. Suddenly, Joe Wilson rose up on his haunches and screamed at the president, "You lie! You lie!" when the nation's leader said his plan wouldn't cover illegal immigrants. Wilson was the one lying. The president was telling the truth. His plan doesn't cover illegal immigrants, even though it probably should. (Otherwise, we all pay when they go to the emergency room for primary care.)
But that isn't what the outburst was really about. His priorities were these: With his numbers dropping, Joe wanted to make himself an instant hero to the far right — something that is indeed starting to happen. He got to be on a Fox network talk show Sunday; last week, he probably would have had to buy a ticket to be in the studio audience. That, he hopes, will get campaign money pouring in, though outraged real Americans are also sending money to his former opponent, a Democrat named Rob Miller who has vowed to run again next year.
What you may not understand is that what this boorish thug did was the secular American equivalent of screaming obscenities at the Pope in the Sistine Chapel. Nobody has ever insulted a president like that during a joint session of Congress, not even when the legislators were actually being lied to, as they were by George W. Bush.
Two young Democrats did turn their backs on Gerald Ford and walk out when he tried to restart America's involvement in the Vietnam War. But this was far different. Besides making a slimy name for himself, Wilson almost certainly had other priorities, though it is hard to know exactly how his brain ranks them. Clearly he wants to help destroy the image of President Obama as a "legitimate" leader. Part of that is probably personal, but he also wants the financial support of the hospital and medical lobbies, who are fighting savagely against health care reform.
Make no mistake about it. The far right will do anything to sabotage efforts to reform health care. They are spending millions, spewing a torrent of lies into the atmosphere. Not half-truths. Not distortions. Not honest worries or questioning about how all this would work. Lies, huge ones.
Newsweek this month (Sept. 7) exposed the five biggest: 1) You'll have no choice in what benefits you'll receive, 2) no chemotherapy for the elderly, 3) free health insurance for illegal immigrants, 4) the government will set (or control) doctors' wages, and 5) the big Sarah Palin lie: "Death panels" will decide who lives.
There is no truth in any of this. President Obama has, sadly, done something wrong: He attempted to treat Republicans as if they were legitimately interested in seeking good-faith solutions for this nation. They are not.
John McCain, a true patriot regardless of his politics, was furious with Wilson for his thug-like outburst. Most younger Republicans, however, don't care. More and more, they behave like the fascists in the 1920s. They shout down their opponents, repeat mindless lies over and over, disrupt meetings.
Most of all, they show no respect for democracy. Here are some true facts about health care: More than a million people in Michigan don't have any. That's actually a better average than the rest of the nation, where there are now at least 46 million with no health care.
But as the auto industry shrivels, we have been catching up fast. The Obama plan preserves freedom of choice, except perhaps to irresponsibly have no health care. You can support what the president is trying to do for our country, and for us, which includes pressuring him and the Democrats not to give up the public option.
Or you can watch while the big corporations turn us into a backward slum nation. Matter of fact, they are well on their way. Have fun selling your blood for food, comrades. Tell 'em Joe Wilson sent you.
Bad day for a worse man: Presumably the final chapter in the farcical efforts to remove state Rep. Rashida Tlaib came last week, when the Wayne County Election Commission threw out petitions aimed at recalling her.
Tlaib, you may remember, stood up to Matty Maroun by opposing his plan to build a second span next to his Ambassador Bridge. She was worried about the health of her Southwest Detroit constituents, many of whom, like her own 4-year-old son, have asthma. When she wouldn't knuckle under, Moroun apparently activated a knuckle-dragger.
Adolph Mongo, perhaps Detroit's least savory political consultant, announced he would seek to recall Tlaib. Mongo admitted he was on Moroun's payroll, but claimed the recall was his own idea. But it backfired — badly.
One hundred people showed up to show support for her at the election commission hearing. Many spoke in her support. Nobody defended the recall. Mongo, naturally, didn't even show up. When the petitions were rejected, people cheered. This is not, of course, the end of Moroun's quest to build a bridge that the governments of neither Canada nor the United States want.
Other politicians are far more ready to take Moroun's cash and do his bidding. But it seems safe to say that it wasn't a big bonus week for Mongo.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]