14 Things You Need to Know About Obama Heckler, Rep. Joe Wilson
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South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson was pretty much a nobody until his outburst Wednesday during President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress and the American people on the subject of health care. Here are some things worth knowing about Mr. Wilson, including his most recent video appeal, at the end of this list, where he continues to characterize the Democrats' health-care plans as "government-run," saying he will not "be muzzled."
1. Like his ideological counterpart known as Mr. The Plumber, his real name is not Joe. It's Addison. His middle name is Graves. That makes him Addison Graves Wilson.
2. Wilson is a member of the organization, Sons of Confederate Veterans, reports Dave Niewert of Crooks and Liars, which "as the Southern Poverty Law Center has detailed assiduously, has been taken over in the past decade by radical neo-Confederates who favor secession and defend slavery as a benign institution." (Not that Wilson's affiliation has anything to do with his unprecedented heckling, during a presidential address before a joint session of Congress, of our first African-American president.)
3. Wilson served as an aide to the late segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, who is credited with conducting the longest filibuster in Senate history -- against the 1957 civil rights bill.
4. When Thurmond's bi-racial daughter, fathered out of wedlock with an African-American teenage girl, came forward in 2003 -- after Thurmond's death -- Wilson castigated Thurmond's daughter, saying he did not believe her story. Essie Mae Washington-Williams was conceived of a union Thurmond had with his family's 16-year-old maid. Thurmond was 22 at the time. "It's a smear on the image that [Thurmond] has as a person of high integrity who has been so loyal to the people of South Carolina," Wilson said, according to TPM. Wilson later apologized to Washington-Williams.
5. A large percentage of Wilson's campaign contributions come from the health sector, according to OpenSecrets.org. Over the course of his eight-year congressional career, Wilson has collected $414,000 from the health sector, topped only by contribution from what OpenSecrets calls the "finance, insurance & real estate" sector, from which he has gleaned $455,000.
6. According to his congressional Web site (which has crashed thanks to a rush of traffic after the president's speech), "Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) announced today that his office will be open on Saturday, September 12, 2009 to host constituents traveling to Washington for this weekendâ€™s 9/12 March on Washington." The September 12 march is sponsored by the astroturfing group FreedomWorks, and widely publicized by the 912 Project launched by FOX New personality Glenn Beck, who, in an apparent fit of what the psychologist call "projection," called Obama a "racist."
7. Wilson is an adamant opponent of health care reform. As reported by The Hill, his last Tweet before his heckling performance at Obama's speech read, " Happy Labor Day! Wonderful parade at Chapin, many people called out to oppose Obamacare which I assured them would be relayed tomorrow to DC." (Wilson is currently the top trending topic on Twitter, and has nearly doubled his number of followers since his outburst.)
8. A military veteran whose health-care coverage is set for life, even after he retires from Congress, Wilson has " voted 11 times against health care for veterans in eight years, even as he voted 'aye' for the Iraq War..., " according to Adam Weinstein, an uninsured Iraq-war veteran, writing at Newsweek's The Gaggle. "He voted to cut veterans' benefitsâ”€not his ownâ”€to make room for President George W. Bush's tax cuts," Weinstein says. "He repeatedly voted for budgets that slashed funding to the Veterans Administration and TRICARE. And perhaps most bizarrely, he refused -- repeatedly -- to approve Democratic-led initiatives that would have extended TRICARE coverage to all reservists and National Guard members, even though a disproportionate number of them have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and many lost access to their civilian work benefits when they did so."
9. In 2002, the Washington Post reports, Wilson attacked Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., on national television, calling him "viscerally un-American" and accusing him of "hatred of America" because the Democrat suggested that the United States had once provided Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein with the wherewithal to acquire nuclear and biological weapons technoligies. Hussein was an ally of the United States during the war he waged on Iran. (The Post has the video.)
10. Wilson served in the Reagan administration as deputy counsel in the energy department.
11. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., hearts Joe Wilson; calls Obama "combative." "The president’s combative tone did not justify a member of Congress shouting out 'you lie,'" Graham told the South Carolina newspaper, The State. ''Our nation’s president deserves to be treated with respect. It was an inappropriate remark, and I am glad an apology has been made.'' He then attributed Wilson's behavior to the president's remarks.
"I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech," Graham said. "At times I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult -- not less -- to find common ground."
12. Wilson's heckling is raising funds for both him and his opponent in his upcoming congressional race. The Washington Post reports:
One clear beneficiary of Wilson's intemperance was his Democrat opponent, Rob Miller, who garnered 46 percent of the vote in a 2008 matchup with the congressman. By midday, Miller had received more than 10,000 new contributions, totaling more than $350,000, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which hailed the "groundswell of support." Miller, a former Marine, still faces a fierce fight in a firmly Republican stronghold.
ThinkProgress reveals attempts by Republicans to use the incident to raise funds for Wilson:
Republican activist Patrick Ruffini encouraged his Twitter followers to contribute to Wilson. Calling the South Carolina congressman a " great American hero," RedState.com’s Erick Erickson posted this fundraising solicitation on his site:
Joe Wilson has been identified as the Republican who yelled out that Barack Obama was a liar.
He gets a drink on me!
CONTRIBUTE TO JOE WILSON HERE. Joe Wilson’s opponent raised $11,000.00 in an hour after Joe Wilson stood up to Barack Obama. We must help Joe Wilson.
13. Joe Wilson's BFFs in Congress, according to McClatchy Newspapers: Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Delegate Madeliene Z. Bordallo, D-Guam.
14. Joe Wilson continues to lie. In a YouTube video released Thursday, Wilson, who apologized to the president Wednesday night via White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel,seems hardly contrite. He now says that "liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as a distraction..." "They want to silence anyone who's against" the Democrats' health-care plan. Wilson continues to refer to the health-care plan as "government run," and attributes his outburst to having spent a month in town-hall meetings with emotional constituents who oppose a "government takeover" of health care.
Adele M. Stan AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.