In Washington, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina was sharply criticized by both Democrats and his fellow Republicans for shouting “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s health care address on Wednesday. But here in his strongly Republican congressional district on Thursday, he was celebrated by many of his constituents for his outburst.
“Yeah it was rude, but somebody needed to say it,” said Susan Wahl, 41, a homemaker in this town of 800. “Ordinary people can’t just get up and tell Obama he lied. He said something we all wanted to say.”
In a state famous for its gentility and rebelliousness, Wilson earned praise from voters who admired his message, if not his delivery.
“I kind of want to defend Rep. Wilson,” said Mendel Lindler, 63, an insurance salesman in Lexington. “The president has been trying to shove something down our throats, and Rep. Wilson said, ‘Hold on here.’”
Wilson yelled the comment when Obama said health reform would not extend benefits to illegal immigrants. He later issued an apology, which the president accepted on Thursday.
“I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes,” Obama said at the White House. “He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I’m appreciative of that.”
Some commentators on the right said Wilson, who was previously known mainly for his backing of the Iraq war, had nothing to apologize for and should instead be hailed for his willingness to challenge Obama on the particulars of his health care proposals.
But Wilson’s Republican colleagues overwhelmingly took the position that he had exceeded the bounds of congressional decorum and that he took the right step by quickly admitting it.
Wilson told reporters Thursday that his heckling of Obama had been driven by his desire to prevent illegal immigrants from getting government-provided health care and that he just blurted it out. “It was spontaneous,” said Wilson, who said he apologized to the White House on Wednesday night at the urging of the Republican leadership.
Based on the health care proposals so far, Obama’s overarching point was accurate: The legislation would not allow illegal immigrants to obtain the proposed government subsidies that would make it easier for low-income individuals and families to afford health insurance.