Were you startled by Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” interjection during President Obama’s address on health care last night? So was I. But those who know and love Mr. Wilson the best are telling us what South Carolinians have known for a long time: Joe Wilson is a staunch defender of “Confederate Heritage” who voted to keep the rebel flag flying atop the South Carolina legislature in 2000.
When a representative of the NAACP called the Confederate flag “our American swastika”, Joltin’ Joe was outraged.
“That’s offensive to me that they would take my heritage and make it into a Holocaust era type description,” Wilson told a reporter from the BBC. “I find that very offensive, and it’s not true. The Southern heritage, the Confederate heritage is very honorable.”
I’m not sure which part of the Southern heritage Rep. Wilson thinks demonstrates the greatest honor: slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching or the complete absence of due process for people of color? On the other hand, if we confine our reflections to white people interacting with other white people of equal rank, Wilson may have a point. Southerners, all things considered, are the friendliest people on the Continent.
Well, maybe not all things considered.
It also appears that Joe Wilson (like Texas Governor Rick Perry) is a long-time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The significance of this affiliation is difficult to determine. The SCV once included a large contingent of Civil War buffs and proud southerners who had no beef with the civil rights movement. That changed in a big way a decade or so ago. The SCV is now controlled by unapologetic white supremacists who think slavery was a benign institution and speak openly of southern secession. Much depends, therefore, on whether men like Wilson and Perry have kept current with recent developments within the SCV. If they haven’t, they need to distance themselves from this organization. If they maintain membership in full knowledge of what the SCV presently stands for somebody needs to be asking the hard questions.
It will not surprise you to learn that Joe Wilson has benefited richly from compaign contributions from the health insurance industry.
Wilson also has a history of brutal ad hominem attacks on ideological opponents. Everyone finds it hard to listen in silence to a persuasive speech from an ideological adversary. You have to sit there and make nice and, for some of us, that doesn’t come naturally. But Joe Wilson has shown the same lack of self-control he exhibited during Obama’s health care speech in the give-and-take of political debate.
Consider this revealing expose in The University of South Carolina blog, Facing South:
Seven years ago this month, the then-freshman Wilson appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” with five-term Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) to discuss whether to go to war in Iraq, action that Filner opposed but Wilson supported. In the course of the discussion, Filner noted that the U.S. supplied weapons to Saddam Hussein’s regime during the Iran-Iraq War — a fact revealed by the investigation into the Iran-Contra Affair, which discovered the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, then under an arms embargo, to win support for freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon and to fund the Nicaraguan contras, a counterrevolutionary rebel force that was fighting the country’s government.
But Filner’s statement incensed Wilson, as the Washington Post reported at the time:
“That is wrong. That’s made up,” Wilson fired back. “I can’t believe you would say something like that.”
When Filner calmly held his ground, advising Wilson to read newspaper reports and other documentation, the Republican erupted: “This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous. And you need to get over that.”
As moderator Connie Brod sat by helplessly, Filner challenged: “Hatred of America? . . . Are you accusing me?”
“Yes!” Wilson shouted. For good measure, over the next minute Wilson accused Filner of harboring “hatred of America” four more times, of being “hateful” three times and of being “viscerally anti-American” once. Filner responded, “This is not worth replying to,” and Brod finally regained control of the discussion by taking viewer phone calls.
Lately I have spent a lot of time reading southern newspaper clippings from the 50s and early 60s. Joe Wilson’s paranoid style comes straight out of the “massive resistance” movement. If I thought Mississippi State Senator Lydia Chassaniol’s love affair with the racist Council of Conservative Citizens was an isolated anomaly I wouldn’t be giving it so much attention.