"Joe Wilson’s outburst Wednesday night earned more than a personal rebuke from the president and a dagger-eyed gasp from the speaker of the House; it drew winces from Republicans worried that their party is becoming known less for the power of its ideals and more for the pettiness of its vitriol.
“Neither party has an exclusive on wack jobs,” says Republican media consultant Mark McKinnon. “Unfortunately, right now the Democrats generally get defined by President Obama, and Republicans, who have no clear leadership, get defined by crackpots — and then they begin to define the Republican Party in the mind of the general public.”
Turn on the TV, and you see what he means.
Here’s Orly Taitz, insisting that the commander in chief was born in Kenya. There’s a flock of angry protesters chanting “Just say no!” and carrying signs depicting a Democratic congressman with devil’s horns. Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warns darkly that Obama is planning “death panels” for senior citizens. Georgia Rep. Paul Broun equates the president’s plans with “Nazi” policies. Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt — last heard calling John Murtha a “coward” — tells a birther: “I agree with you, but the courts don’t.”
And then, in the midst of all the catcalls, hand-held signs and “I’m not listening” BlackBerrying, Wilson interrupts Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress by shouting, “You lie!”
“The president was helped more by the optics of House Republicans than by his own speech,” says former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.). “It’s not likely to do any long-term damage, but they need to be very careful how they oppose this president.”
One veteran GOP official puts it bluntly: “The image of a bunch of white guys booing an African-American president is about as bad as it gets.”
Republican leaders were quick to distance themselves from Wilson’s outburst. John McCain said Wilson should apologize, and he did — although he also insisted that he was right about Obama’s lack of candor.
Brian Jones, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, finds it frustrating when lawmakers like Wilson hijack the party’s public persona."
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