I’m surprised that it so shocks my friend Ramesh that many Americans – and not just African-Americans -- are asking why it is that only when we have a black man as president has a member of Congress felt he could stand up and shout, “You lie!”
First, I should say Joe Wilson was wrong, entirely wrong, to shout this, or anything else, during the speech. In fact, if Wilson thought Obama was lying, he should have shouted "point of order", and asked the chair if Obama was breaking house rules by saying members of the house had lied about his plan.
Of course, Joe Wilson knew he was wrong, and he apologized immediately to the President.
Second, it is well-known that Democrat members of the house had accused Bush of lying, on the house floor, violating the same rule Wilson was accused of violating. I don't think the rule was why Wilson was wrong -- I think yelling "Preach it" would have been just as wrong.
Third, it is also well-known that Democrats actually booed the President during a state of the union speech -- an act that was certainly as damaging to the "decorum" of the house as shouting at the President. But the Republicans certainly knew that was wrong, and made a big deal of it at the time, even though they didn't have a vote to condemn the Democrats.
But what of the question? Nobody, even in 2005, actually shouted at the President during his SOTU. So why would Wilson do so here?
Well, here is the missing piece -- This is the first time in my memory that a President has requested a joint session of congress for the purpose of making a campaign speech attacking members of the other party, and lying about it. The State of the Union speeches are constitutionally required reports, and generally the Presidents have been well-mannered, giving their priorities but not calling members of the body liars.
The only non-SOTU speech I can think of was Bush's Sept 20, 2001 address to the nation, when he presented the nation's plan of action in response to the 9/11 attacks. There was nothing partisan in that speech for anybody to yell about.
So we don't have to invoke racism to explain this "unique" event -- the shout was an irrational, but not unpredictable, result of the already unique and undecorous use of the solemnety of a joint session of congress for a partisan political speech by a President falling in the polls and struggling to remain relevant.
The idea that Wilson would never have shouted at a President Biden is ludicrous. In fact, I would argue that the attacks on a President Biden, doing exactly what President Obama has done, would be much harsher -- precisely because Obama is black.
Years of invoking racism in our country have made everybody think twice before saying anything bad about a black person, especially in public. Even thrice-removed comments can cost you your job (see Trent Lott's offhand comment at Strom Thurmond's birthday party speaking kindly of his presidential run).
And look around you -- every person who has said anything in opposition to Obama's policies has been called racist. President Jimmy Carter is only the latest to say that if you don't want universal health care and the destruction of our economic system, you must be racist.
So, I guess I must be a racist, because I still love my country, and I think that what is best for my country, for ALL of us, is for Obama's plans to fail. Not because Obama is black, but IN SPITE of it.