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Four Not-So-New Things Joe Wilson's "YOU LIE" Kerfuffle Reveals About America.

This Joe Wilson "YOU LIE" controversy is a pretty fascinating glimpse into four not-so-new aspects of American political culture:

1. POLARIZATION. We're still just as polarized as we were a few years ago. Take a look at this YouTube video from a second-term George W. Bush State of the Union speech to Congress:

I uploaded this YouTube video 40 months ago. It shows Democrats behaving less-than-cordially toward Bush. In fact, in the video, which has received a few new bursts of interest in the past several months and now has more than 20,000 views, Democrats brazenly and arrogantly applaud their own obstructionism on the issue of Social Security reform.

While Joe Wilson was a lone voice calling the President a liar, opposition parties have always grumbled and pushed back and even passively but rudely sat on their hands, when the President has delivered speeches. If anything, Joe Wilson may have been surprised he was the only one shouting back at Obama for lying to the American people. Indeed, the folks he associates with probably unanimously believe as he does, just as the folks Pelosi associates pretty much unanimously believe as she does.

Polarization is nothing new, but it may be on the rise, as media are increasingly segmented and individuals increasingly choose to live in ideologically comfortable places.

2. PASSION & TAKING POLITICS PERSONALLY. American partisans are just as angry and just as distrustful of the other side as they were a few years ago. President Bush was subjected to pretty terrible heckling, snickering, name-calling, and sneering from the left. In some ways, Joe Wilson's outburst was mild compared to some of the negative campaigning that took place in America before the 20th century. South Carolina, in particular, has produced some infamous political outbursts, including the "Caning of Charles Sumner" in 1856:


After Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner called out South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks by name in a speech, Brooks was so incensed at the insult, that Brooks physically beat Sumner inside the Senate chamber. Brooks resigned afterward but was immediately rewarded with reelection. The country was polarized. His constituents appreciated that he beat the crap of a trash-talking Yankee.

Joe Wilson's fleeting outburst is extremely mild, in comparison.

3. CHANGE. The dominant political ideology and party is just as in flux as we were during the Bush administration. There is no settling in of a Democratic majority for 40+ years, like Democrats had pre-1994.

The immediate political future of America is very much still up for grabs.

Tugging from the left are demographic changes such as church attendance falling off the face of the earth in many parts of America and Hispanics becoming outright majorities in otherwise conservative states like Colorado, Arizona, and Texas.

Tugging from the right are demographic realities including the fact that conservative women have lower abortion rates, higher birthrates, and conservative families tend to impart their values more readily on younger generations.

Hispanics outside of California and New York are also much more up for grabs for the political parties. In places like Los Angeles County, Hispanics are heavily unionized and therefore strongly Democratic, whereas in Texas and elsewhere, Hispanics are far more independent.

Looking at 2010 Census projections, conservative states are poised to gain quite a few new seats in Congress (as well as quite a few electoral votes) at the expense of liberal states, due to higher birthrates and higher domestic in-migration rates.

Republicans are clearly not conceding 40 years of continuous reign to Democrats, and Joe Wilson's "speaking truth to power" moment encapsulates the zeitgeist of a party that has not thrown in the towel to become mere loyal opposition for a generation. While I think Wilson was somewhat out of line and may cause a bit of a rallying behind Obama among liberals, the Republican Party does need more people to stand and fight, not merely throw in the towel.

4. LOCAL FIGURES CAN CAPTURE NATIONAL RESOURCES. All politics may be local, but there is no such thing as a purely local race for any office, anywhere in America. Both Joe Wilson and his challenger have reportedly raised more than a million bucks online, since the outburst. Raising money outside of one's district is nothing new for "celebrity" candidates, but the internet is making it far more easy to do so. Let's stop pretending, however, that the internet is some new fad. It has been around for nearly a generation in political terms, and it is not going anywhere.

The near-term political future belongs to those who can marry their inevitable 15-minutes of political fame with technology to cash in and succeed. Joe Wilson likely did not plan "you lie" as a fundraising ploy, nor did his opponent have any ability to see it coming, but both sides had the infrastructure in place and were ready to raise tens of thousands of small donations over a brief period of a few days. Raising dollars is not the exclusive purview of Howard Dean or MoveOn.org or Barack Obama, but it never really was.

Posted by Will Franklin · 13 September 2009 04:14 PM


I am sorry Obama is a liar...

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