OK, let's get this straight. Joe Wilson (R-SC) made himself look like an idiot when he shouted "You lie!" in the middle of Obama's speech last night. For one thing, it's a rule of Washington etiquette to not interrupt the President when he's speaking. For another, the section he chose to yell at - a part of Obama's speech in which he said that his health-care bill does not include benefits for undocumented immigrants - was not an opinion or a stretched truth but an absolute fact. It'd be like a kindergartener shouting "You lie!" at the teacher who just said that two plus two equals four.
But somehow I just can't bring myself to be anything more than amused at the whole thing. See, if this had occurred in Britain, it wouldn't have even been remarkable. I mean, have you ever seen question time? Heckling is a way of life there.
Here's the thing. In the name of "civility" we have condemned anyone who dares speak a contrarian point of view in a somewhat unorthodox manner. Journalists love calling partisans on both sides uncivil. Problem is, those partisans frequently have a point, and by condemning protests we narrow the range of debate so much that we start to crowd out alternative viewpoints. The fact that Wilson's outburst was just plain wrong is not the point. Anyone with an Internet connection and the slightest ability to do research can ferret that out. But by forcing artificial rules of "civility" on people, we allow actual honest-to-God lies and distortions from the powerful to go unquestioned and unpunished.
Let's look at it this way. What if a Democratic Congressperson had yelled out "You lie!" in response to Bush's claim that Saddam had WMDs, or that he was responsible for 9/11? Wouldn't we on the left consider that a good thing? It would have been a challenge to Bush's obvious lie, whereas Democrats keeping to these artificial rules of civility allowed Bush to say these things pretty much unchallenged.
So while I'll condemn Wilson for being stupid and wrong, I just can't condemn Wilson for speaking his mind in a manner that contradicts established rules of etiquette, which seems to be the consensus condemnation of the day. He didn't prevent Obama from finishing his thought or actively prevent others from hearing what Obama had to say (unlike, say, the town-hall protestors who have frequently done just that to their Congresspeople). In his mind, he saw bullshit and called it. While Wilson's bullshit meter is apparently broken, I just don't think we ought to be too hard on someone for using theirs.
Of course, this doesn't make Wilson immune from mockery. Such is the lot of the protestor whose position is ill-thought-out...