Rethinking Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” Obama Outburst

U.S. Rep Joe Wilson was condemned for shouting "You lie!" as President Barack Obama addressed Congress in 2009, but some of what he said has come home to roost.

On September 9, 2009 recently-elected President Barack Obama addressed Congress to discuss major healthcare reform legislation – which ultimately became the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare.

In an astounding example of party-based voting that exceeded even the normal bounds of bitter partisan division, the ACA was ultimately passed by Congress that December, with 90% of Democrats voting for it and 100% of Republicans voting against it.

Emblematic of the poisonous atmosphere inside the U.S. Capitol, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson (SC) screamed “You lie” during that September 9 speech as Obama explained that illegal aliens would not be eligible for Obamacare.

Wilson’s peers on both sides of the political aisle condemned their colleague for behavior utterly inconsistent with the decorum expected of members of Congress, and the respect that ought to be given to the President of the United States.

Not least of which among the critics was John McCain – a leading Republican Senator who had lost the 2008 election to Obama less than a year earlier – who called for Wilson to apologize immediately. He did. Obama accepted, and the matter was soon forgotten.

But not everyone forgot. I certainly didn’t. In my January 5, 2013 column, titled The Republicans are Falling off the Mental Health Cliff, I condemned Wilson for his outrageous lack of dignity. And I stand by those words today. But in fairness to Wilson, it may be time to reevaluate the essence of his sentiment, if not the tone or even the literal accuracy.

Obama said that the law would not permit illegal aliens to sign up for Obamacare. He was right. He didn’t lie about that and so, tone aside, Wilson was also technically wrong about the accusation.

But the practical effect of “the law won’t allow illegal aliens to sign up” strongly implies that the end result will be “illegal aliens will not sign up,” and those two statements do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

Laws are only as strong as their enforcement. Jaywalking, after all, is against the law, too, but at any given moment, millions of pedestrians throughout the country are crossing the street when the light is still red. And they are not prosecuted. In fact, the only time I can remember ever seeing a ticket issued for jaywalking was on the Andy Griffith Show, by overzealous deputy Barney Fife.

One reason that illegal aliens have little reason to fear signing up for Obamacare is that they are virtually assured that their information will not be submitted to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), the branch of Homeland Security that deals with prosecution and removal of immigration violators.

That would be like a bar with a posted sign that says “Persons under 21 are not permitted to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages,” yet no one ever checks for ID. Or like the photo I took last year in Greece, of a “No Smoking” sign surrounded by four ashtrays, all containing actively-lit cigarettes.

The concern, of course, regarding illegal aliens’ access to Obamacare is primarily a financial one. Even the staunchest defenders of our national borders in the name of law and order – of which I proudly include myself – who deplore how easy it is for illegals to get a job “off the books,” go to school, or rent an apartment, are not so heartless as to say: “who cares if they get sick?

They’re illegal aliens!” That is absolutely wrong, in my view. (The key is to prevent illegals from coming or remaining here in the first place – but that’s another story for another time.) Obamacare aside, we should not allow ailing human beings on our soil to remain untreated.

The problem, however, is that in our collective and natural instincts to be compassionate human beings – to want to extend a healing hand to our fellow men and women regardless of immigration status, we miscalculate financially. If we budged for Obamacare by including only those officially eligible, then we’re going to run out of money to pay for it. That means, higher taxes, or larger deficits, or both.

Virgil Goode, a former Congressman who was the Constitution Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, was one of very few politicians to speak about the financial implications of same sex marriage.

While seemingly everyone else made it a “morality v. discrimination” debate, Goode addressed that pesky little detail of dollars and cents: namely, the need to reevaluate the budget for Social Security and other benefits for which married folks, if the pool would be enlarged to include same sex couples.

For these reasons, if President Obama actually realized as he gave that speech in September 2009, that illegal aliens would find a rather simple way to circumvent any barriers to their inclusion in Obamacare, then he certainly did “lie,” in a sense. Because lying – in everyone’s dictionary except maybe those found in the Clinton household (and in a few others) – is not limited to uttering false words, it is about omitting vital ones, too.

Almost five years after the fact, Joe Wilson’s behavior remains shameful. Good for Republicans like McCain, who blasted him for it. If only the conservative talk show hosts had done the same.

But given the sentiment of Wilson’s words – based on a practical effect that is turning out to be quite accurate – it is also time for members of the press that remain Obama’s sycophants to acknowledge: “We disagree with how you said it, Congressman Wilson, but not with what you said.”