South Carolina’s Joe Wilson is becoming a national Congressman. Taking advantage of his national “15 minutes of fame”, Rep. Wilson is now positioned to at least partially fill a desperate void in the conservative movement — that of principled inside leader.
The Republican landslide of 1994 did not happen over night. Years of work from many dedicated people in and outside of Congress, joined with the proper political climate, propelled conservatives into the majority for the first time in generations. With Newt Gingrich setting strategy and developing themes, Tom DeLay and Vin Weber implementing the group’s plans, Bob Walker challenging the Democratic leadership with his great parliamentary command of legislative procedure, Jack Kemp laying down parameters for economic conservatism and Dick Armey doing the same for social issues, the House GOP became majority-ready, and finally won the opportunity to serve.
Now that Wilson has the ability to attract national attention, he can begin to play a role that we haven’t seen in many a year. When future Speaker Gingrich was a backbencher in the Democratic controlled House of Representatives, he and his team painstakingly planned strategy and tactics to make inroads for conservative principles, emphasizing policies that increased individual freedom and lessened government control of citizens’ daily lives. Now, some 20 years later, conservatives are back where we started, but the movement lacks the inside leaders to project a clear alternative for outside conservative organizations and rank and file community activists to assimilate and push forward. Gingrich still does good work, but he’s not an insider anymore.
The tea parties, town halls, and overwhelming response to help Wilson fend off the mounting liberal and media attacks ($1.5 million raised virtually unsolicited from all around the country in seven days) shows that a vibrant conservative movement continues to exist in real America. It doesn’t inside the halls of Congress, but maybe Wilson can become the lynch pin to re-establishing the effective vehicle that once was.
He can do so for several reasons. First, Mr. Wilson is well positioned on two committees that are important to setting a national conservative agenda – Armed Services, and Education and Labor. Second, he’s just proven that he can handle the well-orchestrated national attacks heaped upon any conservative that has the temerity to stand up for his principles. Third, he has a sound operational structure. With the guidance of his politically seasoned chief-of-staff, Eric Dell, who Wilson recruited back from the private sector to re-establish control of his entire operation soon after the last election, the South Carolinian has the tools – and now possibly the opportunity – to become the national inside conservative leader that the movement needs to advance and capitalize upon new political opportunities.
While most people would agree that Joe Wilson’s “you lie” outburst was inappropriate for a presidential speech in the House chamber, it is true Obama’s claim that his healthcare program won’t cover illegal aliens is false. The President cites language that specifically bans such coverage, but Speaker Pelosi and her lieutenants will not allow amendments to ensure that IDs are checked – similar to their position of prohibiting legal verification at the ballot box. Whether anyone is or is not lying is beside the point, but Joe Wilson’s analysis that any eventual healthcare legislation will cover non-citizens is correct — maybe not because of the President, but certainly courtesy of the Speaker.
Wilson was right to apologize to the President while simultaneously maintaining his political stance and integrity. Now, he must ascend to the next level. Let’s help him.