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Dana Milbank on Rep. Joe Wilson and the Republican Response

Video
The nastiness of August reached from the town halls into the Capitol as President Barack Obama spoke about his health care plan. South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" after Obama talked about illegal immigrants. Video by AP

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Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, September 10, 2009; 2:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns, videos and blog posts.

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He was online Thursday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson and the lack of civility during last night's presidential address to Congress.

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Dana Milbank:

Good afternoon, liars!

Just back from the FreedomWorks/tea party rally across from the Capitol. Dick Armey says we should "give ol' Joe Wilson a break."

What say you?

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Arlington, Va.: I seem to remember the Democrats giving Bush some rather chilly receptions over the years. But did they ever do this sort of outright heckling?

Dana Milbank:

The most scandalous thing a Democrat did was kiss President Bush on the House floor. They drummed him out of the party for it -- and it was just a peck!

There was indeed booing and the like for Bush, but nobody seems able to recall anything quite like this.

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Silver City, N.M.: Does anyone else find Eric Cantor rude for texting during the President's speech?

washingtonpost.com: A Tale of 140 Characters, Plus the Ones in Congress

Dana Milbank:

The texting/tweeting thing was a big problem at the State of the Union, but this time I think most of the members were occupied with other activities, such as waving bills in the air, coloring posters and heckling.

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Cincinnati: Dana--are you saying the President wasn't lying when he said illegal immigrants won't be covered? Why not look at the House bill and tell us whether or not it allows illegals to be covered? The Congressional Research service issued a report last week saying there was NOTHING in the House bill that excludes illegals from receiving government-run health care.

In other words, be a REPORTER instead of a hack for Barack.

Dana Milbank: A hack for Barack! That is quite a refreshing allegation after being called a right-wing stooge for the last few months.

Actually I wasn't addressing the factual nature of Obama's speech. The issue wasn't that Wilson thought the president wasn't telling the truth; part of the presidential job description calls for expertise in truth shading. The issue was shouting "you lie!" at the president on the House floor during an address to a joint session of Congress.

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Minot, N.D.: What is up with people named Joe Wilson calling presidents liars? First it former ambassador (the most famous husband since Desi Arnaz) and now white Southerner (shocked he's a Republican)?

Dana Milbank:

This is very strange, indeed. We must find out what role Scooter Libby had in this. You think Patrick Fitzgerald is busy?

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Lyme, Conn.: At one point, it appeared that a group of Republican members of Congress were waving something. What was it they were waving, and is it considered appropriate protocol during a speech?

Dana Milbank: They were waving a copy of their alternative healthcare proposal. Also Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) was waving a victory sign, and Al Green (D-Texas) was waving his fist.

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Media Matters: Hey Dana, you did it! Media Matters isn't happy with your false moral equivalance. WaPo's Milbank: Dem. Rep. Green made "fascist salute" to Obama (MediaMatters, Sept. 10)

Dana Milbank: Excellent! After just 3 minutes as a hack for Barack I am back to being a right-wing stooge.

It's too bad about Media Matters. I'm sure Mr. Brock et al have some good points to make, but because they attack everybody for everything all the time, it winds up discrediting the good stuff they do and make it appear that they are just making noise.

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Cumberland, Md.: The President is not GOD nor is he the sultan of Turkey, or the Queen of England -- if he lies say it out loud -- I mean the PM at Prime Minister's Questions gets hit with nasties all the time -- why should the president be any different? He is a politician and gets to take his lumps like any other pol.

Dana Milbank:

This is an important point. The prime minister is the head of government. The queen is the head of state. The president is both head of government and head of state. So, this would be more like somebody in the House of Commons calling the queen a liar to her face.

I think Obama should make the point more clearly by wearing a tiara and robe and carrying a scepter at his next address to Congress.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I think it'd be a lot more interesting to talk about that fool in California, recorded talking about his love life.

Why did he think the guy he was talking to wanted to hear that?

Dana Milbank: This is a reference to former California Assemblyman Michael Duvall, who resigned after accidentally speaking into a live microphone the explicit details of his sexual conquests.

I am hopeful the NRCC will find a way to get this man on the ballot in 2010.

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Chicago, Ill.: So Hillary got a double hug, Geithner got a very quick handshake and Pelosi held on to Obama's hand for as long as possible. What should we read into the stagecraft?

Dana Milbank:

Best bit of body language I witnessed last night: Rahm Emanuel reaches out to shake Tom Coburn's hand, and pretends to pull him forward over a row of chairs. Coburn then yanks back, and Emanuel loses his balance and reaches out to the seat in the next row to keep from falling.

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Curmudge, ON: Dana,

Whatever happened to that Republican't guy who was supposed to offer the "other side" speech? Did he wimp out?

(You don't have to answer this - I have no credibility - I am the one who suggested that a large globe be added to your mouthterpiece Theatre set. 'Nuff said.)

Dana Milbank:

See, maybe if we had added that globe, things would be different today. . .

Are you referring to Lord Charles Boustany? The congressman gave the GOP reply last night, but the DNC cheekily drew attention to his attempt to buy the title of a British noble from a couple of con men. Probably Boustany did give a response, but Wilson gave the only response that anybody noticed.

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Kettering, Ohio: It seems Harry Reid had called W a liar at some point and I don't remember anyone really getting worked up about it. May the party without sin or hypocrisy please stand up to be recognized.

Dana Milbank:

Don't look at me, Kettering. I wrote about that in my column and in my book, Homo Politicus. It's still true that the most nervous man in all of Washington is Harry Reid's press secretary, the inimitable Jim Manley.

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Alexandria, Va.: No breaks for Joe Wilson. He acted more like he was at a Town Hall meeting full of "birthers" than in the hallowed chambers of the Congress. I am thrilled that his Dem opponent in the next election is raising lots of money because of Wilson's boorish behavior. I wish he would be censured.

Dana Milbank:

Well, Wilson's from a pretty safe district, and this may even help him politically.

On the censure, Hoyer and some others had talked about this, and Pelosi said today that the parliamentarian had handed her a note last night with her options, but she's calculating, correctly I think, that it's better to let Wilson stew in his own juice rather than make it look as if the Democrats are being vengeful.

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Great Neck, N.Y.: Hey Dana, glad to see you're back in action.

Beyond the obvious breach of respect shown last night, can we get a read on the wider inability of the U.S. to have a serious and intelligent conversation about health care?

Granted, there will always be fringe partners and extremists pushing the edge of rationality (death boards anyone), but what can or should be done to set aside the polemics and push the necessary questions about how to improve the health-care system.

As part of this question, what place do journalists/news organizations have in promoting a healthy debate rather than provide a platform to the nutters.

Dana Milbank: You lie! We are in fact a nation of nutters. Only about 8 percent of the population is non-nutter, and that is because they are taking Prozac.

Actually, I think it's true to say that we have a Congress (and particularly a House) of nutters who are far more extreme than the districts they represent. Blame redistricting, campaign finance, and everything else, but power/seniority in Congress rewards those who come from the most reliably conservative or liberal districts.

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Victoria. B.C.: Just to point out: in the House of Commons the one thing you are not allowed to say, to anyone, whether it be the PM or a fellow MP, is that they are a liar. You can imply that they are lying; you can point out an inconsistency, you can express incredulity, but you are not allowed to say outright "You lie!". If you do, you're removed from the Chamber.

Dana Milbank:

Thank you for this clarification from the Commonwealth. That is the rule on the House floor, too.

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Anonymous: And you know he would rock that outfit too! Wish I was so gifted I could do a Hirschfeld drawing of it. The image did make me snort.

Dana Milbank:

I've got to get back to writing my column, but I wanted to leave you with this Obama-as-queen mental image. And if he gets the outfit soon he can run in the drag footrace in Adams Morgan at Halloween.

Thanks for chatting.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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