The Sideshow Becomes the Center Ring

It's tempting to call it ironic -- and it is. But just a little. During President Obama's address to a joint session of congress, he called out Republicans on their lies. There are no "death panels" in his plan for reform, no funding for abortion. But it was illegal aliens that made a Republican Representative to get his rage on.

"There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants," the president said, shooting down a popular right wing lie. "This, too, is false -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

Rep. Wilson makes an ass of himselfIt was here that Rep. Joe Wilson felt the need to shout out, "You lie!" Obama was accused of lying about Republican lies. A little ironic, since the accusation in itself was a lie, but mostly it was just good old Republican hypocrisy.

Nancy Pelosi shot up straight in her chair, obviously shocked. Then she looked out into the chamber with the same expression I'd imagine she'd wear if she were saying, "I think I can get a clean shot." Vice President Biden just shook his head. Then everything went on.

Afterward, the White House chief of staff wanted to know who the shouter was.

[New York Times:]

Following the speech, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, approached lawmakers on the floor to ask who had accused Mr. Obama of lying. Mr. Emanuel was told it was Representative Wilson.

"No president ever has been treated like that, ever," Mr. Emanuel told reporters.

Probably not entirely true, but Wilson doesn't have a civil war as an excuse.

"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill," Wilson said later in a statement. "While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."

But Wilson's apology, like his shouted accusation, is a lie -- or, at least, dishonest. Congress members were given a bound copy of the speech, as they always are, and Wilson was aware of everything Obama would say. He wasn't sitting there when the mention of illegal aliens caught him by surprise. He was probably waiting for that moment. Rep. Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, apparently thought this would just be a brilliant move. It wasn't. Joe Wilson's 2010 opponent -- Democrat Rob Miller -- has raised $91,275 since last night, as of this writing.

Unfortunately, the sideshow has become the center ring today. Wilson is the headliner, not Obama. When I checked twitter last night, "Joe Wilson" was the number one topic -- but Obama was around seventh or eighth. So it's not surprising that the news media, reactive as it is, makes Wilson a big story. But what's being lost is that President Obama gave what early indications show was a very successful and persuasive speech last night.

According to a CNN flash poll [PDF], the president killed. Asked, "What was your overall reaction to President Obama's speech tonight -- very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative or very negative?" 77% of respondents answered that it was either very or somewhat positive, with the majority -- 56% -- calling their reaction "very positive."

But that isn't the only indication that the president's words had an impact. Where 60% said they thought Obama would move the country in the right direction before the speech, 70% thought so afterward -- a ten-point jump. He had even more success with opinions of his specific plan; 53% supported Obama's healthcare reforms before the speech and 67% favored them afterward.

75% believe that congress will pass most of his proposals and 72% felt the president was clear about what he wanted. Looking through this, there isn't a bad number in this poll. But Joe Wilson is getting a lot of the coverage.

While Wilson's outburst inarguably hurt him directly and, in all probability, Republicans in general, it's not really helping Obama or Democrats. As I wrote earlier, he's the sideshow -- the townhall mob made manifest in front of news cameras at an event where it had no business. It's a great illustration of what's wrong with the GOP these days. As dishonest as they are angry, as fact-free as they are opinionated, they stand for nothing so much as the status quo by standing against any possible success Democrats might enjoy. They're obstructionist by design and by default and nothing will move them toward any semblance of sanity. They are against everything and for nothing. They have become enraged nihilists.

But this makes Republicans a vacuum. There's nothing there -- just insubstantial lies and empty complaints. Democrats should be able to rush in and fill the void. But the media keeps treating them as if they were something other than empty holes and sore losers. "Republican says stupid, insane thing" becomes "GOP critic of reform speaks out."

We have to get these numbers out. Because the media won't. Not even CNN is making a big deal of their own poll -- last time I checked, they were asking talking heads whether the president made an impact, stupidly ignoring their own factual data that shows he did.

We can't even count on the media to report the numbers they have. So we have to do it and Democrats have to do it. Otherwise, we're going to be stuck watching the sideshows for the foreseeable future.


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