The XX Factor

What Exactly Is Joe Wilson Nostalgic About?

Hanna, maybe what we’re witnessing is a bit of media overkill-no surprise there-which is certainly irksome considering the many more important issues that should be getting comprehensive news coverage. Still, you make “your average blinkered Southern nostalgist” sound so quaint and harmless . If you, like Rep. Jim Clyburn, were a son or daughter of the South and were black and of a certain age, you might be forgiven for thinking that those who pine for a return to the way things were are really wishing for the days of white supremacy, when black people stayed in their place and never had the temerity to run for high national office, let alone the presidency. You might understand that the nostalgia goes beyond the Confederate flag and to the very heart of the comfort that white men like Joe Wilson took from knowing that there was order and safety in their world because they had black people in check and under control.

What you’re casually overlooking is the very deep and very legitimate pain and anger that people of color feel when they recall, without a shred of rose colored nostalgia, the terror that was visited upon them daily by white southern segregationists who shared Strom Thurmond’s mentality and Joe Wilson’s admiration of that mentality.

What makes you so willing to take what Wilson’s says at face value? You believed his “You lie!” outburst was spontaneous-and granted it may have been-and you also believe that the only thing Wilson said about Thurmond’s secret black love child was that she was “unseemly” to claim Thurmond was her father. Somehow I find this hard to believe. And what’s so unseemly, by the way, about saying someone is your father when that someone had an affair with your mother, the house servant, secretly acknowledged he was your father, and regularly gave you financial support? That some powerless black women would have the nerve to sully Thurmond’s good name by even implying that he would sleep with a black woman? Clearly that’s much more indecorous than lynching black men who so much as shot sideways glances at white women in the good ol’ days. And it’s much more ill-mannered than a member of Congress trying to shout the president down while he’s addressing the nation.

Joe Wilson is a big boy, who knows how to throw his punches and, by all appearances, seems wholly capable of taking a few good punches, too. He is not being “hunted down,” he is suffering the consequences of throwing the first punch. Just a few days ago you were sounding a bit nostalgic yourself for the sort of verbal fisticuffs that take place in the British parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions, during which ” spirited and sometimes nasty debate might take place instead of the tedious “civility” that governs these phony American sessions .” Now you want Maureen Dowd and Rahm Emmanuel to show civility to Joe Wilson? Trying to draw some sort of moral equivalence between Joe Wilson’s actions and the speaking style of a potty-mouthed chief of staff and the writing style of wicked-tongued columnist is a bit of stretch. Neither Emmanuel (who politely accepted Wilson’s appology to President Obama, no?) nor Dowd, are elected officials, nor have they ever shouted down a president down during a speech to a joint session of Congress. Even Joe Wilson’s biggest appologists and defenders recognize this.

Calling someone a racist, if in the past he has said racist things, behaved in a racist manner, supported racist legislation or legislators, and championed a flag that is viewed as an emblem of racism, is not some easy way to shut someone up, as you contend. It’s an easy way to point out the truth. Last I checked, Joe Wilson was not going quietly into the good night because he’s been called out or forced to shut up.