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September 18th, 2009
06:22 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnuts' hit new congressional low

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)."]

Who knew that we could hit a new congressional low so quickly after the summer recess – or that the uncivil outburst would become a conservative rallying cry approaching absurd folk hero status?

But that’s what happened to South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson since he shouted “you lie!” at President Obama during a joint session of Congress last week.

It was, by all internal accounts, an unhinged moment of anger. Wilson apologized to the president soon after and was roundly criticized by the likes of John McCain and other leading Republicans. He became the face of our coarsening civic dialogue, a sign that Tea Party anger is gaining currency in Congress.

Then he started raising conservative cash by the boatload, as his local Democratic opponent did the same. Hyper-partisan talk radio came rallying to his side. Wilson said he’d stop apologizing and hired a media consultant. Soon it was Wilson who was playing the victim card, with online ads that proclaimed “Joe Wilson is Under Attack.”

At the 9/12 protests in DC, I saw dozens of signs expressing their solidarity with Wilson – “Joe Wilson speaks for me,” “Joe Wilson told the truth,” “He speaks for patriots,” and “Palin-Wilson 2012.”

This week, the House decided to offer the first formal resolution rebuking a congressman for speaking out while the president was giving an address in its history. Wilson deserved it for his wing-nuttery, but my guess is that it will only make him more of a martyr to the fringe.

That’s also likely to be the impact of one Democratic congressman’s argument for the official rebuke. Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia told reporters that Wilson’s ugly outburst "did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks.”

No problem so far. But then Congressman Johnson brought the specter of the KKK into it. “I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside, intimidating people," he said. "That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked."

On "Wingnuts of the Week," we’ve condemned overuse of KKK, communist and Nazi references in domestic political debates from whatever the source. Wilson and Johnson’s remarks are not equivalent, but saying that idiotic incivility will lead logically to a resurgence of the KKK doesn’t help the argument or the healing process. The moderate majority of Americans see Wilson’s comments for what they are – an unhinged ugliness bubbling up around this president.

The wingnuts' increasing influence in American politics should be a wake-up call – it is a challenge to the idea that what unites us is greater than what divides us as Americans. Expect more turbulence this fall – and more reason for us to call out the extremes and keep them accountable.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Mitchell

    I was born at night but it wasn't last night. Sure Obama swears he can put 40 million or more people on a government run health care program and and it will not cost one extra dime. Yep Mr. President you lied.....again.

    October 12, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Lee

    Never any facts from the left. Just character assassination and denial of the facts today and every day. O lied. Read your own biased papers. Today o and the dems have demanded coverage for illegal aliens. You fools can see it in print now and still not get it or at least not admit to it. How absolutely frightening! He lied when he addressed the nation and knew it! He LIED plain and simple and continues to due so about many things. There is none so blind as he who WILL not see.

    October 10, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  3. DaveM

    Love the term "wingnut". While they exist on both sides, the vast majority of them land squarely in the extremist right. Where else can you find talking heads irresponsibly stirring up drama amongst an uneducated and socially-immature constituency? Rather than doing the research, listening to other points of view and forming their own opinions, this lazy portion of the public is content to have their opinions spoonfed to them enthusiastically by agenda-driven media sources. There is no forgiveness for willful ignorance.

    October 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm |
  4. Merv

    Do you people realize the insurance companies have hired 100's of experts to spread lies around the Internet and beyond about healthcare reform. So next time you read about somebody opposing healthcare reform, ask this genuine or just somebody protecting the insurance companys' grotesque profits? You might be surprised if you found out the truth.

    October 6, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  5. Frederick Ferguson

    This is a ludicrous segment. There is no such thing as a "left" or "left wing" wingnut in America. For example, Obama is to the right of the Conservative prime minister in Canada today. America is a right wing country–much more so than Canada or Europe. The Democrats are center-right and the Republicans are in the insane asylum.

    October 6, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Bryan

    I don't understand why I can't criticize Obama's policies without being a racist. Why are his policies inseparable from his race? Do only black people support these policies? Do only white people oppose them? Newsflash for the youngsters out there: these policies have been unpopular since long before anyone ever heard of Obama.

    Instead of taking the time and trouble to understand WHY their fellow citizens oppose these policies, the intellectually lazy take the easy way out and just cry "racist". If the left wing can't put forth logical rebuttals to sincerely held positions, it undermines their whole argument.

    October 6, 2009 at 11:42 am |
  7. Chris

    Let National and State Senate and House members pay for their own healthcare and leave medicare alone.

    September 28, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  8. julie

    I would nominate those who rushed to give Joe Wilson all the reelection money as the wingnuts.

    September 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  9. Duke

    Wing nuts indeed, yet how american are buffalo wings and beer nuts? The problem is with the two party system, the wingnuts are the quentisential icon and symbolism of both the Democrat and Republican parties.

    A republican gets elected who enforces strict law and order and leaves with a dismal approval rating. A democrat then gets elected on "hope and change" and "resdistribution of wealth", yet only to lead to another republican getting elected 4-8 years down by campaigning on building "American values" and "American economy". All in the all, behind the campaign slogans they all have the same wasteful economic agenda and are both instilling wars on foreign soil.

    There is a saying, "those that do not learn from history often repeat the same mistakes." Another goes, "one thing we learn from history is we don't." The problem is if we continue to buy into these propoganda, and siding with one of two of the wingnuts, we will never bring about real change in this country and from this board alone, it seems like we indeed learned nothing.

    September 23, 2009 at 7:31 pm |
  10. GarryT

    I nominate Avlon for the next Wingnut of the Week. This clown is little more than a useful idiot for Obama. His pathetic attempt to seem evenhanded by putting both Republican and Democrat at the top, but focusing his vitriol towards Republicans has become yet another sad example of how frail the attempts of the media are to be impartial. The only time he attacks a Democrat is for a minor matter here or there, or for criticizing other Democrats. Therefore, I nominate John Avlon for Leftist Press Wingnut.

    September 23, 2009 at 4:39 pm |
  11. johnrj08

    When a person is so strident and enraged that they will not accept even the most obvious facts, then that person is driven by something other than a difference of opinion on a policy. When a person eagerly accepts any lie or half-truth perpetrated by a huge interest group or lobby, and they decide that the president is the one who is lying, there is something else at work here. The people holding up "Go back to Kenya" and "Witch Doctor" signs are the least of the problem, because they're too ignorant to do any real damage. The dangerous ones are those who are pulling the strings and pushing the buttons, trying to mask their racist agenda with a trumped up political cause. This is politics of self-destruction and, if we're not careful, it will take us all down. Joe Wilson, who is a member in good standing of the Sons of the Confederacy and is a staunch proponent of making the Confederate flag that standard for his state, is a shameless racist and political opportunist who has lied time and again about his own background. Yet he calls President Obama a liar.

    September 23, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  12. Pete

    Lee – I've got two words for you – you lie. You also twist words and play partisan games instead of addressing the issue at hand – just like your friend Joe WIlson.

    The Republican amendments were straw men intended to get voted down because of the not so fine print – do you want to bleed out at an emergency room because you don't have your license or proof of insurance? That's what those amendments would mandate as law.

    Also, coverage for illegal immigrants – there is no money explicitly FOR illegal immigrants. There is language that would let them buy into coverage at the same rate as citizens (without any subsidies whatsoever). This is to address the status quo situation of illegals getting treated for free.

    Under Obama's plan, if ANYONE walks in for treatment, they are asked what their coverage is – if they don't have it, they are made to sign up. BOOM. They're covered. And they're paying for it. NOT the US taxpayers.

    Under the Republican plan, they are told to go bleed out in the dumpster so the trash men can take care of their funeral. Maybe that's a bit harsh – "I don't care where you die, just don't do it here"? The sad part is, I'm not kidding. That's about as far-reaching as that plan got. That's not an amendment, that's a sadistic joke.

    September 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  13. James

    All of you crying "racism" on everything these days need to wake up. The left was doing the exact same stuff to Bush when he was president. Do a quick google search and you will find tons of protests with pictures of him on signs as hitler and other misrepresentations. So it's the same thing, different person.

    It's unfortunate that our national policy is often dictated by those at the extreme right and left yet the majority of this country is in the middle. It doesn't seem like independants and middle ground people can win, because they are instantly vilified as not being "extreme" enough by their party. Sad state of affairs and I'm afraid this country is going down the tubes, regardless of what party is in power, because of that attitude.

    September 23, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  14. JohnM

    Lee September 19th, 2009 11:58 am ET

    Joe Wilson is only human. “O” lied through the entire speech and Wilson simply could not take it any longer! The last straw being that illegals would not be covered in his health care plan. “O” didn’t mention that amendments to specifically ensure that were voted down. I’m sure they are hoping for a situation like the left has developed in California. Here it is illegal for an illegal alien to collect any sort of public assistance. What they will not tell you is it is also illegal to inquire as to whether you are here legally or not! Have you seen now that o lied in his speech about the man who died of cancer because he was canceled by the insurance company? A lie! His daughter having meningitis? A lie!
    YOU LIE!

    NO YOU LIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  15. Jim M

    Re: Enforcement of the illiegal immigrants. As part of the Welfare Act of 1996, this covers illigeal immigrants for ALL federal programs.

    Perhaps Rep Wilson should read the laws that in place. Or would that be too much work.

    September 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm |
  16. Mike Austin,TX

    The only racism I see is from the left. Guilty dog barks first is a good analogy.

    September 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  17. Mike Austin,TX

    CNN just does not get it. Why are you attacking regular Americans who are voicing their opinions. We do read CNN but we dismiss most of it as bias state-run media blather. Same with alot of the comments from liberals showing their inability to seperate truth from emotion. Dismiss Americans at your own peril. Watch as your rating drop further. No pity for you..

    September 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  18. Charli Butler

    Hey Lee go to section 246 of the health care plan it plainly states that illegals are not entitled to benefits. What your talking about in Cali has to do with the STATE govt. not FEDERAL !

    September 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm |
  19. Charli Butler

    Every time I see a Tea Party protest, I feel all that is missing is the white robes and hoods. They would probably use the N-word on their signs if they could get away with it. They lose their message when they cannot even articulate their anger in a civil manner on a piece of poster board. All the Stalin/Hitler comparisons turns my stomach. This is NOT a valid comparison and when I see these types of signs at these rallies it is code to me for RACISM!!

    September 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm |
  20. Bob in Florida

    I suspect that if most Americans were brought before Congress to testify on any issue, they would be found in "Contempt of Congress".

    September 21, 2009 at 9:53 am |
  21. Michael Petro

    Ha ha these wing nutz never cease to amuse me. I don't think they believe they lost. I don't think they realize what they have done by letting these nuz take control of their massage; which is what? That's right no one knows, they have none.TheGOp is irrelevant like those who play their parts like puppets. All the republlican chatter reminds me of little squaking birds, repeating what they have heard without understanding a word of it.

    September 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  22. 62yearoldbusinessman

    The republicans are driving this coutry backwards.

    September 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  23. 62yearoldbusinessman

    Palin- Wilson Racist and dumb and dumber

    September 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm |
  24. Ginger

    Boehner and Graham are ready to send troops to Afghanistan why are they not willing to allow the President and his people to properly develop the bill they is also urgency here. Ask them to stop bashing to bill wait for the final bill and then comment. Just as one person said the President should not be on TV now the Republicans should stop this fuss as well. Let all concern allow the bill to be properly developed and then comment. Its time to focus on other issues lets move on I am growing so tired of this I have actually stopped tuning into your stations as often as I do. Stop nick picking at the President if you disrespect him do you think others around the world will respect him. Cool it let's focus on the G20.

    September 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm |
  25. Ginger

    I am listening to Boehner and Graham the Republicans want to fix the current system why were they not able to fix it when Bush was it. Believe me they wish to continue more of the same. On my Island we have the option of using the public health care system, believe me the middle class pay for health care because its faster and "better" trust me only the poor will really want to use your public option. The middle class will chose insurance plans that give better options, lets face it right now the employers are asking employees to pay more for their insurance. It makes sense to allow the plan to be properly developed its better than keeping what you presently have. you will have options either the public or other private options trust me not many people will use the public option if you do that just image the long waits and over use of the system.

    September 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm |
  26. Lee

    Joe Wilson is only human. "O" lied through the entire speech and Wilson simply could not take it any longer! The last straw being that illegals would not be covered in his health care plan. "O" didn't mention that amendments to specifically ensure that were voted down. I'm sure they are hoping for a situation like the left has developed in California. Here it is illegal for an illegal alien to collect any sort of public assistance. What they will not tell you is it is also illegal to inquire as to whether you are here legally or not! Have you seen now that o lied in his speech about the man who died of cancer because he was canceled by the insurance company? A lie! His daughter having meningitis? A lie!
    YOU LIE!

    September 19, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  27. Allen

    I agree that the wingnuts' influence in American politics should be a wake-up call. On the one hand we have people screaming "Look!", and on the other hand we have people screaming "I don't see anything!".

    Which side are you on?

    September 19, 2009 at 9:13 am |
  28. greg

    Get real CNN:

    Joe Wilson will go down in history as the "You Lie" racist Congressman from South Carolina.

    Who is Joe Hankson, or whoever you are trying to match up against "You Lie" Wilson?

    September 19, 2009 at 8:52 am |
  29. greg

    If anyone wonders what President Obama is up against regarding outbursts from the like of Joe Wilson and the heathcare lobby he is trying to protect, then consider the following:

    President Obama’s Annual Salaty: $400,000

    Health Ins. Co. & CEO With 2008 Total CEO Compensation
    ▪ Aetna, Ronald A. Williams: $24,300,112
    ▪ Cigna, H. Edward Hanway: $12,236,740
    ▪ Coventry, Dale Wolf: $9,047,469
    ▪ Health Net, Jay Gellert: $4,425,355
    ▪ Humana, Michael McCallister: $4,764,309
    ▪ U. Health Group, Stephen J. Hemsley: $3,241,042
    ▪ Wellpoint, Angela Braly: $9,844,212

    September 19, 2009 at 8:48 am |
  30. greg

    President Obama’s Annual Salaty: $400,000

    Health Ins. Co. & CEO With 2008 Total CEO Compensation
    ▪ Aetna, Ronald A. Williams: $24,300,112
    ▪ Cigna, H. Edward Hanway: $12,236,740
    ▪ Coventry, Dale Wolf: $9,047,469
    ▪ Health Net, Jay Gellert: $4,425,355
    ▪ Humana, Michael McCallister: $4,764,309
    ▪ U. Health Group, Stephen J. Hemsley: $3,241,042
    ▪ Wellpoint, Angela Braly: $9,844,212

    September 18, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  31. Shag

    I don't watch your network much anymore, mainly because you keep the racist Lou Dobbs, but this is my least favorite segment. It's such a waste of time and Avalon is arrogant. Reminds me of that Miles O'Brian.

    September 18, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  32. michael petro

    I just cannot see how anyone can disagre w/ the presidents wishes for health care other than they want to protect their bonus and outlandish pay. Why would you not want everyone to have health care. How do you fel about paying premiums for years and all of a sudden when you need it most you lose it because it becomes to expensive for your insurance. How do you fel about premiums going up 400% under the republican rule? free market my @#$. People are dying for their profite\s and you could easily become one of them; any of us. Public option is the only way.

    September 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm |
  33. Candace Smith

    I think it is very sad to see some government leaders act as though they are righteous above the racism issue but then turn around and inflame people by race and any other means to destroy their "enemy". The saddest part is that the imagined "enemy" they think they are fighting is supposed to be on the same team as them to govern our country. If one cannot control themself to the point of outburst why are they trying to govern any person? Govern is what you are elected to do and yes part of that is disagreeing but to disrespect not only President Obama but the "Office of the President" which has long been a position of esteem is no way to disagree. You say that government is too big but when you are in power NOTHING changes. You say government run healthcare is a "Communist" approach because people loose the power to choose but this Health Care bill gives people the choice. You do not want to assist people who do not have any "Choice Options" and are in need of healthcare with a government option. Yes I agree government is too big both "Republician and Democrat" and individuals should keep and control more of their hard earned money but I look at the things that our government is supporting now and the waste there is. The American people are not represented unless special interest benefits them. Our freedom has long been lost to back room deals with special interest. If anyone can be accused of "Communist" it is the people who are and have already served our nation in it's latter years and have put our nation into debt far more than was necessary by uncontrolled spending. Can you tell me why we would support government funding for banks, automobile industry, farmers, etc... the list goes on and on and on and on (ok you get my point) and not support Healthcare which is now a "luxury" that many cannot afford? Is it not "special interest" enough. Oh no it is public interest. The people who are governed no matter their race, religion, creed or BANK ACCOUNT.

    September 18, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  34. nancy

    LOL ~~ " and “Palin-Wilson 2012.” dumb and dumber.

    September 18, 2009 at 8:53 am |
  35. Michael Petro

    I would like to nominate two names for wing nutz: Benedict bacus and con-man conrad for putting big business profits ahead of the common peoples needs and wishes. Why do they call themselves democrats, I grew up thinking dems care about the everyday man & the repubs only care about green pieces of paper and power above peoples needs.

    September 18, 2009 at 8:21 am |
  36. Michael Petro

    Joe is a racist why has anyone brought up his vote on the confederate flag?

    September 18, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  37. Armando

    Horrified that CNN is taking the stunning new lynch mob mentality out there...the wave of racism and disrespect and trying to make it funny??! "Wingnut" of the week was dreamed up by someone who... didn't walk through the DC last weekend. This is serious. And not there are not unbalanced types on both sides equally...the right seems to be able to have the large majority of those. Rep. Wilson isn't a wacky "wingnut", he is a racist. And that's not funny. Wake up CNN.

    September 18, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  38. Bernadette Loesch

    I am able to understand where both of these men are coming from, Joe Wilson is entrenched in a Southern mentality engrained from childhood and so is Rep. Hank Johnson. To an outside observer their reactions and behaviors reflect the attitudes and messages sent to these gentlemen by the people in their communities. On the one hand Rep. Johnson remembers the cruelities tolerated, on the other Rep. Wilson remembers the abuses perpetuated. Both of these men need to get together to try and find common ground for the betterment of all.

    September 18, 2009 at 7:44 am |
  39. David

    You were right about the wingnuts, but you are wrong about overtones of racism of people who are against the president's health care plan. If anyone is showing racism it is the race baiters like Hank Johnson. I'm a white male from the south and I disagree with the president's health care plan. I'm not a racist! I turned my TV to Morning Joe on MSNBC.

    September 18, 2009 at 6:52 am |