It has been fascinating to watch the reaction to last night’s address by President Obama. This is one of those moments when the differences between institutional elites and movement activists are cast in stark relief. I am of course talking about Republican reaction to South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s now legendary “you lie!” heckle directed at President Obama’s comments on health care coverage for illegal immigrants.
The Republican leadership in Congress was quick to condemn Wilson for his breach of institutional etiquette. But on conservative talk radio, internet blogs, and cable news, it was a whole different story, as Wilson was quickly elevated to the status of movement conservative folk hero. I spent a fair bit of time sampling various conservative media outlets today, and I heard the word liar used in conjunction with Obama’s name more than at any other time I can recall (and not just about the illegal immigrant issue).
It should be pretty clear to Obama at this point that if he gets any Republican votes in favor of health care reform, he should consider them a bonus. But there is only so much that Republicans in Congress can do to derail the president’s agenda. The more interesting question (as I’ve recently noted) is whether these highly agitated movement conservatives on the outside will continue to have an impact on public support for the president, or instead trigger a voter backlash against some of their tactics. After last night, it feels like the situation could tip either way.
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