Democrats pushed through a resolution yesterday rebuking Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, for breaching House rules when he shouted "You lie" during President Obama's Sept. 9 speech to Congress. This was nothing more than a cheap political stunt based on cynical, race-baiting politics.
Mr. Obama accepted Mr. Wilson's apology numerous times, and the tift should have ended there. Instead, House Democrats have used the war of words as an opportunity to play the race card. Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat, accused Mr. Wilson of instigating racist sentiment and argued the rebuke was necessary to stop people from,"putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people." So much for the post-racial politics Mr. Obama's election was supposed to enshrine.
Yesterday's rebuke ignores the history of the House floor, which long has been a rancorous place, particularly in the 19th century before the Civil War. In those days, brawls were not unheard of and members even challenged one another to duels outside. Member outbursts during presidential addresses are nothing new. In 1950, Republicans heckled President Truman after he admonished their opposition to a tax increase. Many of the same Democrats who rebuked Mr. Wilson booed down President George W. Bush during his 2005 State of the Union address.
Before yesterday's vote, Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times that vengeful Democrats were ignoring a theme of Mr. Obama's speech, which is the need for bipartisanship. "If you apologize to the leader of the free world, whom I have respect for, that is sufficient," the congressman said. "The president was very clear in that speech that we should stop playing politics, yet what the Democrats are doing is playing politics."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been outmaneuvered in this game because rebuking Mr. Wilson has kept the controversy alive -- and the facts don't justify Democratic umbrage. Mr. Wilson's accusation that Mr. Obama was lying was a reaction to the president's claim that Republican opposition to government health care is based on lies and falsehoods. If the congressman deserves a rebuke for lowering the level of political discourse, so does the president.