Thursday, September 10, 2009

What’s up, South Carolina?

The citizens of the great state of South Carolina might be advised to consider calling for an investigation into the ingredients of their drinking water. With two serious momentary and prolonged lapses of reason from two prominent elected officials, they could be wondering if stupid is bacterially contagious.

By now, of course, you’ve heard about the unprecedented outburst from Republican Rep. Joe Wilson last night, during President Obama’s address before a joint session of Congress.

At one point, as the president sought to dispel rumors of his health-care reform plan being extended to undocumented aliens, Wilson can be heard shouting “You lie!” at the president of the United States, before the ears of the nation and the world.

It’s bad enough that such a lapse of decorum and respect for the presidency, if not the president, should happen in prime-time, in front of tens of millions of people here and around the world. What’s worse for Republicans seeking to derail the health-care plan is the emotional ammunition Wilson’s outburst provides the Democrats. By symbolizing the town-hall shoutdown strategies used by conservatives for months, Wilson will embarrass centrist Republicans, and galvanize progressives and supporters of health-care reform, in a way that talk radio and Fox News windbags never could.

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The day after for Wilson has been about what you’d expect. Reporters have bird-dogged the congressman all day, even after his apology last night, within an hour or two of the end of Obama’s address.

“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 in a statement.

'”While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable,” he said. “I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”

A visit to his Web site earlier today reveals that the site is down for “exceptionally high traffic” (surprise, surprise). A photograph taken today by Susan Walsh of The Associated Press tells the story well: an empty chair and a name plate where the congressman should be, doing the people’s business.

And some in South Carolina are already making their feelings known. From Imaconservative, commenting on the Web site of The State, South Carolina’s leading newspaper: “Individuals such as Joe Wilson are prime examples of why it is becoming increasingly difficult for thinking people to support the Republican Party. I have supported Joe in the past, both financially and at the ballot box, but never again. …”

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Wilson’s meltdown follows the one still happening for the state’s governor, Mark Sanford, whose admission in June of an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, and a subsequent period in which the governor was mysteriously AWOL, off the grid for a week, has left many calling for his resignation — something he’s so far steadfastly refused to do.

Hours before the Obama address, The Politico reported that Sanford had received a “stinging rebuke” from his own party after Republicans in the state House called for his resignation “for the good of our state.”

“Sixty-one of the 72 Republicans in the state House, including Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, signed onto a letter arguing Sanford was unable to effectively govern because of the fallout from his extramarital affair,” The Politico reported.

“Our unemployment is high and the people of our state are concerned about the future – it is a shame that our state government continues to be mired in distraction,” Bingham wrote. “The time has come for the governor to step aside and let South Carolinians begin the process of healing our state.”

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Such events are a one-two punch in the gut for a state that doesn’t deserve it. U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who hails from South Carolina, told McClatchy Newspapers that “Joe Wilson demonstrated his lack of manners by insulting the president on the floor of Congress. It is the Joe Wilsons of the world that have drummed up this kind of poisonous climate that promotes disrespect rather than dialogue on difficult issues.”

And if there was any doubt a linkage between Sanford and Wilson would ultimately be established, Clyburn put that to rest. Fast. “I thought the governor had embarrassed us enough, but Mr. Wilson has gone even lower,” Clyburn said.

It’s anyone’s guess how these recent events will have an impact on the state’s other doings, including its tourism business. Trumpeting the virtues of 360 golf courses, Edisto Beach and the Irmo Okra Strut may not cut it with the public now. We’ll see. But for now, the good people of the Palmetto State deserve better of the officials leading them. A lot better.
Image credits: Wilson top: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press. Empty chair: Susan Walsh/The Associated Press. Sanford: © 2009 State of South Carolina.
'Vox Update: From Rachel Weiner at The Huffington Post: "Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) untoward outburst Wednesday night has had a positive effect for at least one person. Rob Miller, a Democrat planning to run against Wilson in 2010, has taken in more than $350,000 from over 5,000 people through the website since his opponent heckled the president." (Image via HuffPost)

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