Last night during President Obama’s speech, Representative Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted “You lie!” in the middle of it. When I first heard about it, I kind of laughed to myself as I thought about how other countries have more spirited debates during these types of speeches. But then I thought a bit more about it and I felt that Rep. Wilson was, politics aside, both unprofessional and disrespectful. As I read the reactions later today, I started to believe that it was a bad idea for him to do that because his actions made him and his party look bad, and gave the other side ammunition and motivation that could change the momentum of the debate. But then as I sat down to write about it, I realized that Rep. Wilson’s outburst could only be described with one word: Brilliant.
Before I get into how I came to my conclusion, I’d like to provide a little background on the situation. First, it is not my intention to argue whether Obamacare (as it’s being called) is or isn’t a good idea. Instead, I’m analyzing whether or not the interruption was a good idea. Second, if you haven’t seen the interruption, here’s a video clip from Youtube:
Finally, in order to really understand the affect this has, you need to take your own political beliefs out of the equation. Most liberals think Joe Wilson is an idiot for his outburst, many conservatives find him a hero. In fact, many conservatives remind us that back in 2005, President Bush was booed by several Democrats during one of his State of the Union addresses. Here’s the video:
So no matter which side you’re on, you’ve got an example of someone heckling a President representing your party (and if you can barely tell where either interruption occurred, you’re not alone). If you think it was wrong for one and not the other to act that way, you’re letting your political bias cloud your judgment. And I want to stress that I found both acts to be unprofessional and distasteful and I don’t think either act justifies the other. But as you’ll see, there’s more to it than just being disrespectful. Let’s look at some facts:
- Prior to yesterday, President Obama’s approval ratings had been sliding according to most major polling organizations. According to many polls, support for his health care reform plans have been sliding as well.
- Calling Obama a good speaker is an understatement. Whether you love him or hate him (or credit the teleprompter for his success), he speaks well and energizes his fans when he talks. His speech yesterday was well crafted.
- There are three types of people that watch any political speech: people siding with the speaker, people against the speaker and people on the fence. Hecklers, protesters and other people that interrupt typically don’t help their cause. They infuriate the speaker’s supporters, embarrass those that side with the heckler and can often nudge those on the fence to the speaker’s side.
So with all that being said, common knowledge would dictate that Rep. Wilson’s outburst was a bad idea. A lot of polls and commentary afterwards, including comments by Obama’s opponent in the Presidential election, John McCain, would indicate it was a very bad idea. Just as I thought it was unprofessional for the democrats to boo Bush during his speech, I felt the same about Joe Wilson. But then I came across another fact:
- Prior to yesterday, very few people knew who Joe Wilson was.
Today, “Joe Wilson” is the most popular search term on the web and on social media services such as Twitter. Today, he set a record for fund raising and his web site got so much traffic it got shut down (keep in mind that not all of this traffic was from fans).
There are 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and most people can only name a handful (many don’t even know who represents their district). Today, Joe Wilson is one member of that handful.
It’s scary how Washington is becoming more and more like Hollywood in the sense that getting your name out is the most important thing you can do, regardless of the cost. I have no idea what Joe Wilson’s political aspirations are, but where he comes from a conservative district, I suspect he won’t be out of a job soon. I live in a state that’s so liberal, that many of our representatives run unopposed and get away with behavior far worse than heckling the President.
Like the song “Celebrity” by Brad Paisley goes “the more they run my name down, the more my price goes up,” Joe Wilson’s value as a speaker or guest on television or radio has gone up. It’s hard to tell how long his fifteen minutes will last. Remember Susan Boyle? But he certainly made a name for himself. Was his behavior unprofessional? Definitely. Did it help his career? Absolutely. Would I have done it? Not a chance.