Joe Wilson: Right-wing Folk Hero

Conservative congressman becomes cause célèbre for town hallers

By Andy Barr
|  Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009  |  Updated 1:15 AM CDT
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Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouts and is cheered by the right.

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House Democrats may have passed a resolution of disapproval for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), but many conservative grassroots activists are ready to award him a medal of honor.

Since blurting out “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last week, Wilson has become a cause célèbre for the right, particularly among those who crowded into the raucous August congressional town hall meetings and marched on Capitol Hill Saturday to protest the president’s proposed health care overhaul.

“Remember Joe the Plumber? Direct confrontation with someone like the president is going to make news,” said FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon. “There are a lot of folks out there in the country that feel the president is lying, and that’s why he has become something of a folk hero.”

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters held signs or wore t-shirts supporting Wilson, emblazoned with slogans such as “Joe was right” and “Stand with Joe.” Some signs simply read “Joe 2012.”

Online, Wilson supporters can already choose from an array of products ranging from “Wilson for President” t-shirts to “Joe stands for me” bumper stickers.

Wilson was even seen autographing a photo of his outburst for a fan after he spoke with reporters Monday.

The rank-and-file aren’t the only ones applauding Wilson and offering their unadulterated support.

“The movement has been waiting for someone to have a defiant attitude, and what he did was very reflective of what everyone feels,” said Eric Odom, executive director of the American Liberty Alliance, a libertarian-oriented group.

Odom, who is currently on a 17-city bus tour designed to rally and organize activists, said that people are buzzing about Wilson at every stop.

“Every time his name was mentioned it provoked a loud cheer,” said Odom. “I haven’t found anyone in the liberty movement who is opposed to him or opposed to what he said.”

Some of the most prominent voices in conservative politics are also heralding the embattled congressman’s outburst as a courageous act of defiance, even as a recent Gallup poll showed two-thirds of Americans opposed Wilson's actions.

“Thank God for Joe Wilson,” Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) told the conservative outlet Newsmax on Friday. The congresswoman went on to describe Wilson as the “sweetest, most mild-mannered, loving guy you’ve ever seen.”

“He apologized for violating the rules of decorum in the House, and that’s right, we don’t do that in the House,” she said. “But Joe didn’t back down from his assertion because Joe was right.”

“What’s Joe Wilson supposed to do? He's sitting there being lied to,” conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh added on his show last week. “Every sentence out of the president’s mouth is a lie and what’s he supposed to do?”

Bolstered by the groundswell of support he has received from the conservative ranks, after initially taking a conciliatory approach Wilson has shown a bit of swagger in recent days.

“I apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president and the vice president, who I know,” Wilson said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’m not apologizing again.”

He has also issued a statement trashing Democratic leadership for playing “political games” with his outburst and put up a fundraising plea on YouTube declaring that he would “not be muzzled.”

“I will speak up loudly against this risky plan,” Wilson said in the video. “The supporters of the government takeover of health care and the liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan.”

 

In addition, Wilson is running web ads on a number of prominent conservative blogs hoping to tap into his new national base by urging readers to “stand with Joe” and donate to his congressional campaign.

The web ads are so ubiquitous that they are nearly impossible to miss in the conservative blogosphere. Some have even appeared on progressive-oriented sites, causing consternation among those on the left who were appalled by Wilson's behavior.

After readers of the left-leaning blog TalkingPointsMemo complained about the presence of Wilson campaign ads, Josh Marshall, the blog’s founder and editor, had to explain in a post that while TPM does not support Wilson, “editorial independence and integrity requires a firm division between the editorial and business sides of our operation.”

Either way, the ads appear to be working. The episode has been a boon to Wilson’s campaign fundraising, not to mention its catalytic effect on the campaign of Rob Miller, his Democratic opponent. Both have raised more than $1.5 million since Wilson uttered his fateful words.

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