It seems only fitting that the man who tried to turn last night's presidential address into an angry tea-bagging town hall comes from the dead center of South Carolina and learned at the knee of Strom Thurmond.
What's ironic is that Joe Wilson was lying (to put it in his blunt terms) when he accused President Obama of doing the same. Obama's health-care plan doesn't provide insurance coverage to illegal immigrants.
This isn't the first time Wilson has acted like a total ass while being on the wrong side of an issue. In 2002, when he was thumping for an invasion in Iraq, he claimed that another congressman, Bob Filner, had a "hatred of America" and was "viscerally anti-American." Why? Because Filner told the truth. The California Democrat noted that the U.S. supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons. Filner was right; Wilson was livid.
It's a curious dichotomy: Those who fought hardest to go to war in Iraq are fighting the hardest to keep meaningful health-care reform from happening in the United States. It's like they are addicted to being wrong.
But the Wilson incident, more than anything else, lends credence to the idea that there's more behind some of this anti-Obama hysteria than just policy differences. A couple of commenters here yesterday opined that racism is behind some of the more wild-eyed opposition to Obama. School Board Member Bob Parks said the same thing about the little uproar over Obama's school address. I've resisted that argument, but this episode seems to almost crystallize it.
Again, Wilson comes from the center of South Carolina. Yes, the same South Carolina that refused to honor the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The same state that clings to the Confederate flag. The same state that hosts a GOP political operative named Mike Green who recently tweeted this hilarious joke: "JUST HEARD OBAMA IS
GOING TO IMPOSE A 40% TAX ON ASPIRIN BECAUSE IT'S WHITE AND IT WORKS."
Most interesting is that Obama's congressional heckler, whose actual name is Addison Graves Wilson, is a direct political descendant of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. One of Wilson's first jobs in politics was working as an aide to Thurmond, whose first claim to fame was conducting the longest filibuster in American history. It came in opposition to the Civil Rights Act.
Here's a quote from Thurmond dating back to 1948: "I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches."
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After Thurmond's death at the age of 100 in 2003, it was revealed that Thurmond had fathered a daughter at the age of 22 with a black maid. When the daughter came out, Wilson denounced her saying that she should have kept it a secret and saying she was smearing Thurmond's good name.
So Wilson learned at the heel of one of the great racists (it should be noted that Thurmond's racist views did somewhat moderate with age) and hypocrites of the 20th Century.
That doesn't make Wilson racist, but it doesn't help any argument that he's not either. Of course there's racism at play in some of the at-times-hysterical anti-Obama underground, but we should also remember the vitriol aimed at Bill Clinton (well, then again, he was at times hailed as the first black president himself).
Still, I prefer the financial argument -- namely, campaign financing. When you look at Wilson's contributions, courtesy of OpenSecrets.org, you see that the largest contributor to his campaigns over the years has been, yes, the health-care industry. He's received about (more coming) a half million bucks from health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and hospitals since 1997. That's a lot of coin to inspire one of the the most unseemly congressional outbursts in recent memory, ain't it?