Wilson’s “You Lie!” was standard stuff

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.

3 thoughts on “Wilson’s “You Lie!” was standard stuff

  1. Though I’ve been busy in courts and jails the last couple of days, this post has continued to work on my head, so with your indulgence I will supplement my previous, brief comment. In the process of writing this comment, I have worked through what my views actually are.

    The NAACP, though strong and justified are their feelings about the Confederate battle flag, tread on uncomfortable ground when they call it “our American Swastika.” I’ll defer to the Jewish Defense League, http://www.jdl.org/, on all of the reasons why diluting the ultimate symbol of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the Nazi Holocaust is not such a good idea.

    Apart from that, I agree fully that the Confederate battle flag has no place in public, much less official, displays, however benign a symbol it might remain in the minds of some who harbor fond thoughts of dead forefathers. (And I would include in this statement the flag’s use, for shock value and to maximize negative associations, to head this post about Rep. Joe Wilson’s recent gaffe).

    Let there be no mistake regarding my opinion of what Wilson did. Unlike a slander case, the truth is not a defense, so any argument as to whether or not the government health plan would in fact cover undocumented aliens is inadmissible. Wilson grossly breached the decorum of a rare joint session of the U.S. Congress, and committed a direct contempt on the President of the United States. For that he must apologize without reservation or partial retraction as we have seen him do in the press after the White House graciously granted pardon. He will in fact be censured for it, and properly so, on the floor of Congress if he does not apologize adequately in that forum. Not that Democrats never did likewise to Bush 43 (those who doubt it may check YouTube.com to see and hear it for themselves) but obviously two wrongs do not make a right.

    If this were a trial on the question of whether or not Rep. Joe Wilson is a racist, or, as a lesser-and-included offense by way of responsive verdict, in need of racial sensitivity improvement, and I were the judge, I don’t think I would admit over objections on the grounds of irrelevance (401), or tending more to be prejudicial than probative (403), evidence that he is 1. white, 2. Southern, or 3. a Republican. Nevertheless, on the civil burden of proof, i.e., preponderance, or more probable than not, I would admit evidence of his 2000 vote against removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state flag, and evidence of his association with known white supremacists via Sons of Confederate Veterans, and let objections go to the weight of evidence. If it were a bench (non-jury) trial, I’d likely find against Wilson at least on the lesser charge.

    I’m not as acute as Dr. Bean at bird-dogging the most subtle manifestations of Southern white racism. I came down on the defense side of the “racist cop” (not Southern) charge in the Prof. Gates incident, while agreeing that there never should have been any arrest. On the other hand when it is not a close case, my sentiments are strongly on the side of racial justice, as might be inferred from my post on the Corey Miller majority verdict (Sept. 9, 2009). In between, there are those cases that are easily seen by some, and less easily seen by others until they are given the perspective to understand. The example that comes to mind is that until the early 1970’s, the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana – Lafayette) football fight song played at touchdowns by the Ragin’ Cajuns (formerly the Bulldogs, but neither the local Acadians nor bulldogs have objected), was the erstwhile “national anthem” of the Confederate States of America, namely “Dixie.” The newly-outspoken generation of black students demanded an end to its use, and change, as always, was controversial in itself. Many white students did not understand what was wrong with using the rousing tune they had always used. A black student explained it more or less this way: “I’m supposed to be happy when my team makes a touchdown, just like everybody else. But when I hear that song, it just puts me right back out in the fields, in chains, picking cotton. It brings me down, man.” This was a sobering image, and another song was soon agreed. It should be no more difficult for Rep. Wilson to have realized in 2000, that whatever pride he and other South Carolinians shared in their state flag, their warm feelings were not likely to be shared by those who saw in it the involuntary servitude, and worse, of their ancestors, because of the Confederate battle flag being prominently a part of it.

    On Wilson’s reaction to the Iran-Contra allegations, it goes more to his impulsivity and incivility in discourse than to any charge of racism. If he thought it was a fabrication, in his defense are two points: the story was surreal and counterintuitive to most Americans, and partisans sometimes do make things up. He did however, end up apologizing, once again.

    As for his association with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I would give Wilson an opportunity to show his determined efforts to wrest control of it back from interloping white supremacists. Such a membership is a dubious credential even in the best of lights, so if he has done nothing to improve the organization’s post-Civil Rights Era social legitimacy, he would have done far better to resign in protest than to remain involved. Ancestry-based patriotic organizations were in vogue when American society ranked itself by the purity of its British Isles descent, in the face of 19th and early 20th century immigration. Thus my own father emphasized his Scots heritage by joining Clan Donald, and was an ardent Sons of the American Revolution member, while we are left to wonder after his death at the details of his only hinted-at Amerindian strain. The DAR long kept itself lily white with the requirement of an entirely legitimate (no out-of-wedlock) chain of ancestry, and when Karen Farmer, a black woman, finally proved her qualification on those terms in 1977, the genuine welcome she received was more a sign of the times than of the structure of the group.

    Wilson’s verdict will be at the polls. Either his district wants a representative such as he, or it will choose someone else. To the extent elections depend on money, and cross-border contributions may be taken, his mouth is his worst enemy. Citing the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House, Wilson’s Wikipedia entry, as of this comment, now includes the following: “Within 36 hours of [this] incident, Rob Miller, Wilson’s anticipated opponent in the 2010 Congressional race had received over $700,000 in campaign contributions,[35] more than the $614,487 Miller raised in the entire 2008 campaign cycle.” Wilson may soon enough have more to lament than the passage of time.

  2. Wilson is typical of all of the Southern bully boys that assaulted marchers at Selma with dogs and clubs. I don’t know whether he’s racist in his heart or not, but his disrespect for the office of the presidency is disgraceful and inexcusable, and can only be explained by the fact that either he is a rude and intemperate asshole, or..he feels justified in assaulting the President of the United States verbally because he is a black man. For the judge who posted, this is comparable to a lawyer yelling out in open federal court that the judge is a liar–all lawyers know that he would be cooling his heels in jail within minutes of such an outburst, but this guy is on FOX raising money. This is a grim and concerning development in our public discourse.

Comments are closed.