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Reaction to Wilson's Outburst Over the Top

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (By Harry Hamburg -- Associated Press)
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Was Wilson, perhaps, still reeling from these overheated exchanges in the state once famously described as too small to be a nation, too large to be an insane asylum?

Hysteria is, after all, contagious.

Wilson's apparent cognitive lapse reminded me of a favorite story around our house about my impeccably well-mannered husband as a college student. He was listening to his math teacher droning on about what to expect on an upcoming exam, thinking to himself: "Do we have to prove this [expletive]?"

After the bell rang, his classmates approached him with glee, saying, "We can't believe you said that!" Said what? To my bewildered husband's horror, he had uttered aloud his private thought -- though, thankfully, beyond the professor's hearing.

It happens.

And thus, we have a new addition to the list of proper nouns that have become verbs. To "Borking" and "Nifonging," we may now add "Joewilsoning," as in, "OMG, he Joewilsoned right in the middle of the sermon!"

Obviously, a comparison between the congressman and the college student begins and ends with both having said regrettable things. The congressman is held to a higher standard. But it's hard to imagine that Wilson meant to say what he did. Taking him at his word, the outburst was spontaneous. And, according to witnesses, Wilson seemed to be shaken and left the chamber quickly at session's end.

There's no excusing a Joewilson, but the congressman's continued pummeling seems overdrawn. The tut-tutting on TV has begun to sound like a drum corps. And heaven forbid pursed lips should go out of style.

No one is more surprised by Wilson's implosion, meanwhile, than those who know him to be polite, humble and deferential. (Disclosure: A nephew works in his office.)

A former aide to Strom Thurmond, Wilson apparently acquired the late senator's knack for constituent service. Few are quicker with a congratulatory letter or a note of sympathy. Wilson's actions Wednesday, in other words, seem vastly out of character and, perhaps, evidence of what the ladies back home might call "a case of the nerves."

Wilson's psychoanalysis will have to fall to others, but further public persecution is unnecessary. Rob Miller, a Marine captain and Iraq war veteran who is Wilson's opponent for reelection, reportedly has increased his coffers by $500,000 since Wilson's one-man siege. Obama escaped the assault both unruffled and unscathed.

Though he may have stolen the show, Wilson may have lost his audience.

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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