Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Joe Wilson

After seven low-profile years in the House of Representatives, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson erupted onto the national scene in September with two short words: "You lie!" Wilson's outburst, which came as President Obama pledged before Congress that illegal immigrants wouldn't benefit from health care reform, helped push the Senate to revisit and tighten immigrant provisions in the bill — outraging the Hispanic community. And although Wilson quickly apologized to the White House in a phone call, he resisted Democratic calls to repeat his contrition publicly on the House floor. (A few days later, Jimmy Carter added to the controversy when he said that Wilson's behavior was "based on racism.") Heckling a popular new Commander in Chief at a rare joint session of Congress has proved to have its perils and its benefits. Wilson's momentary lack of restraint has raised him millions of dollars in campaign contributions and has made him a hero of the conservative Tea Party movement; it's also raised millions for his opponent and made Wilson a top Democratic target next November.

— Jay Newton-Small