Joe Wilson's fame lives on

The South Carolina Republican who shouted at President Obama makes some end-of-year lists

By Mike Madden
December 19, 2009 2:19AM (UTC)
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A year ago, no one outside of South Carolina -- and not that many people in South Carolina -- had heard of Rep. Joe Wilson. One brief outburst later, he's a conservative hero, speaking at tea party rallies at home and in Washington and inspiring the GOP faithful to join him in the Republican crusade against the Obama administration and all it stands for (socialism, mostly).

But the news isn't all good for the gentleman from the Palmetto State. That is, not unless you subscribe to Oscar Wilde's belief that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. While Wilson's "you lie!" shriek at President Obama in September helped him rake in the dough, it also enshrined him as the year's most potent symbol of berserk overreaction to Obama's agenda. Which can cut both ways; Democrats are eyeing him as a target in next year's House races, and his opponent, Rob Miller, has raised nearly $1 million just from one Web effort to help him out.


Wilson's also finding himself popping up in quite a few year-in-review recaps as December draws to a close. Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster named "admonish" its 2009 word of the year, because it received the most intense search traffic of the entire English language after the House voted to, well, admonish him. (For the record, the dictionary defines the word as "to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner," which is about right for the toothless resolution on Wilson.)

That wasn't it. Time magazine named Wilson's outburst number three in the year's top 10 political gaffes. Yale University is listing "you lie!" in its book of memorable 2009 quotes (alongside Kanye "I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time" West and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's spokesman's claim that his boss was "hiking the Appalachian Trail").

Obama's next big speech to a joint session of Congress -- the 2010 State of the Union -- won't come for another month or two. But given all the notoriety for Wilson, will some other GOP backbencher feel moved to shout during that one, too?

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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