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Paul Hayden

How Tone Deaf are the Republicans?

September 14, 2009

Once again, a man with the plain vanilla name of Joe Wilson has landed himself smack-dab in the spotlight of controversy. And this rookie Congressman's shout-out in the middle of the president's speech, however gutsy and true it was, may be a case of Barney Fife shooting his bullet before the pistol left the holster. Of course, we know where the bullet ends up in that scene. Do Republicans, like salmon, instinctively want to swim upstream in playing the public relations game?

Like the Proverbs say, there is a time and season for everything. And our Republican friends have an unfortunate tendency to speak up at the wrong times and stay silent at the wrong times. Just look at the California congressman (soon to be former) who with a live mike on chortled about his sexual exploits with women other than his wife.

My argument has nothing to do with placating the liberal left or their acolytes in the media by showing decorum in the halls of Congress, no matter how much the president is playing fast and loose with the truth. Congressman Wilson had every right to voice what he did—but it would have been so much smarter to do it when the speech was over. So what if the country wasn't listening to him then? At least his constituents, those who were tuned in anyway, would know where he stood. Again, this isn't about placating the media. But any politician with a conservative bent and half a brain has to gauge every planned utterance through the filter of media manipulation. That doesn't mean backing down. It does, however, mean that like the Boy Scouts, the conservative politician must be prepared—in this case, for the media blowback on his or her every sound bite. We saw what happened to Sarah Palin in the horrendous interviews with Gibson and Couric last year when she was not ready for their slings and daggers.

I have no doubt that Wilson meant what he said when he said it, and equally no doubt that he still believes it. However, he had to send the White House an apology which took the starch out of his protest and the wind out of his sails. And the left-leaning reporters are crowing about the flood of donations to Wilson's ostensible Democrat opponent next fall. Maybe Rush is right that Wilson's supporters will far outdo his opponent's in the end, but right now the negative fallout seems to outweigh the positive. Especially when the dastardly Pelosi now is calling on the junior Republican to face the shame of censure for uttering two words at the wrong time. Surely Wilson didn't figure this into his calculus when his pot boiled over.

It seems to me that in politics 101, rule number one is: Don't give your opponents anything with which to hit you over the head. Granted, Congressman Wilson said his outburst was a spur-of-the-moment reaction. Fair enough, except for one thing—knowing this president as he should, how could he have been so shocked in hearing what he did? It was eminently predictable that Obama, the Chicago machine pol that he is, would lie with great facility and frequency to advance his cause. In so doing, he was simply carrying on a time-honored Democrat tradition; granted, with more intensity than his predecessors. After all, his radicalism is akin to liberalism on steroids, or, if you like, Bill Clinton on steroids (not a pleasant thought).

At the same time, Wilson could not possibly have hoped that so-called Republicans like John McCain would have his back. Quite the contrary, good old John-O was one of the first to decry what Wilson did, but others in his party did little if anything to support him either, instead pushing him into a largely misunderstood apology. And before he ever opened his mouth, Wilson should have realized that he would be on his own. In that light, instead of apologizing he should have had a fistful of comebacks on the Democrats' disparaging of George W. Bush for eight years, including the shameless booing of the former president during a State of the Union address.

The Republican Party desperately needs an articulate voice who is (1) confident and assertive about what he/she believes and why; (2) unafraid to take on the media when necessary (e.g., frequently); and (3) intelligent enough to think through the ramifications of everything they say and have a ready plan to not back down or be embarrassed. The bottom line with Joe Wilson, courageous as he was to sound off, was that in the end he was embarrassed.

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