Joe Wilson's War

Six important guidelines for disrupting a joint session of Congress.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s a safe bet that when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s address to Congress, he had no intention of being the lone angry voice cutting through the silence of Obama’s pregnant rhetorical pause. Wilson got sandbagged by his Republican colleagues who suddenly fell silent—he thought he’d be part of a chorus, not a solo act.

Mr. Wilson, does “Frank the Tank” sound familiar?—“We’re going streaking! Everybody’s doing it.”

Wilson, a heretofore unknown congressional backbencher, stirred up a hornet’s nest with his “audacity of dope” moment on Wednesday night. Given today’s political culture, there’ll probably be a next time, so let’s make sure everyone’s clear on the dos and don’ts from now on:

1) You Can’t Apologize for Apologizing

It is, as they say, a free country. If you’ve got the stones to call the president a liar at a nationally televised prime-time joint address to Congress—go for it, player. But don’t apologize later.

And definitely don’t go on Sean Hannity’s show and apologize for apologizing by saying that you respect “the office of the president,” but you think there’s a “double standard.” Because if you mean the double standard that leaves room for a white congressman to heckle a black president, but not vice versa, then yeah, we’re sorry about that, too.

Heckling says, “I’m not scared of you.” Apologizing says, “Am I still on your Super Bowl guest list?”

2) You Can’t Refuse a “Chal-Lenge!”

This is why they had duels back in the day. Someone heckles you in Congress, you retort:

“You, sir, are a cad—en garde!”