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Here’s a CNN story detailing plans by the Democratic House of Representatives majority to publicly reprimand Rep. Joe Wilson (R – SC) for heckling President Obama during his address to Congress last Wednesday. Wilson is now famous for calling the President a liar when Obama said no illegal aliens would have access to public health care. After the address, Wilson was dragged-out by the Republican leadership and forced to apologize (sort-of) publicly.

Well, it’s now three days later, and the signals have finally gone from the Democrat’s ears to their brains, and out to their mouths. House Democratic Whip Jim Clybur (D – SC) issued a statement saying Wilson violated House rules with his outburst, and is subject to reprimand. Clybur apparently wants his fellow South Carolinian to apologize on the House floor.

If the Democrats had come out with this about ten minutes after the President’s speech it might carry some moral weight. As it is the Republicans have put them in the position of reacting by taking the initiative and widening the “apology gap”. Pretending remorse pays in this case, as Wilson’s re-election campaign has been taking in money hand-over-fist since Wednesday. Which is a good indication that civility has taken yet another major blow in the arena of American politics. Of course Republicans will claim this influx of cash is a sign that Americans agree with Wilson, whereas it’s more a case of soliciting tithes from the choir.

It’s also interesting that no Democrat in the House wants to take the Wilson situation on directly. Clybur issued his statement through an assistant. Speaker Nancy Pelosi mouthed a form if reasonableness by saying it is time “to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson”, which just seems like another way of trying burn a little of the hay Republicans have managed to make of this thing. If the Democrats don’t manage to get the debate back onto health care reform they endanger their agenda, as well as risk making Wilson’s form of childish argument a paying strategy for the opposition.

On their side, the Republicans risk looking like a bunch of churlish amateurs if they don’t get back on message, which is not calling the President names but undermining his health care package. Right now both parties risk the “Vietnamization” of the health care debate; after a while they’ll just be fighting for its own sake, with no clue how the thing got started or what the goal was. Meanwhile the American people look on and shake their heads, and wonder when these clowns in Washington are going to actually do something. And as usual, we will probably be willing to settle for half-baked, intrinsically flawed legislation just because we don’t want to hear the noise anymore.

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