A frequent attack employed against both Candidate and President Obama is one of questioning his existence. By this I mean there is a concerted effort to undermine belief in his true/real nature. We have seen several fronts in this ongoing offensive such as, “is he a secret socialist/communist?” devolving into “is he a secret terrorist (or person who palls around with terrorist/terrorist sympathizer)?” and, in many ways most shocking, “is he even an American?” These questions, by their very phrasing and nature, suggest that he has cloaked himself in a certain level of illegitimacy: that Obama is not presenting himself in an authentic manner. By questioning his “true nature” attackers are cutting to a basic notion of his existence - who is he, really?
This constant attack on his basic existence as a capitalistic, non-terrorist, or American slowly builds layer upon layer a narrative of illegitimacy. Eventually, the questions create a critical mass convincing the person that is inclined to believe such things that Obama is not legitimate. People begin to believe that he isn’t an American, or is in some way in violation of the Constitution or Oath of Office (perhaps even giving aid and comfort to our terrorist foes) - in effect, that he does not exist “as President”. Even if one is not a birther outright, by surrounding oneself with a culture that questions the most basic of Obama’s existence as the legitimate President, a person can come to believe that legitimate questions exist. It is human nature to believe that the environment that one finds oneself in is the “normal”. This is true of Congressman as well. If even a loud enough percentage of one’s supporters/voters hold a certain belief, it is at minimum advantageous to agree to some degree (for reelection purposes), but more than likely a subtle form of peer pressure can create an atmosphere whereby one believes at least to some degree that these questions of Obama’s legitimacy are some form of “common wisdom”.
Once this level of distrust is established, is there any wonder what could motivate someone to heckle the President directly? -- Now here I must make an aside. I like the British model. I think every once and a while the leader needs to stand in front of a group of angry people and get what’s coming. For the very same reasons why I believe Rep. Joe Wilson could come to have doubts about Obama’s legitimacy as part of Wilson’s basic background facts, so too can a President surround himself with (for lack of a better term) Yes-men. See the sad case of President George W. Bush for an example. Also note that he was booed during the ‘05 State of the Union, and that was a good thing. I think it is okay to boo a President while they give an address (be they Dem or Rep or Green or Libertarian!). But calling a President “a liar” (which is logically equivalent of saying “You lie”) is a difference in kind. Booing is a form of disapproval, it is rude, rowdy, and disrespectful and I wish that there was a better way to go about doing it, but it is what our representatives have at their disposal. One step down in rudeness would be not standing during a standing ovation line. That is also rude and a little rowdy and defiant, but few would say that everyone must stand for those standing ovation moments in order to preserve the dignity of the Presidency. I think a little bit of booing is along similar lines. Leaders need to hear, from time to time, that you do not agree with them. But where not standing is a step down in rudeness, outright calling the President a liar on the floor of the Congress is a big step up. Booing is a statement of disagreement with ideas (as I interpret the action), calling someone a liar is a qualifier about the person him/herself. It is not about the ideas as booing or not standing is a statement about ideas. Yelling “you lie” is a statement about the person speaking. It skirts the line of the ad hominum attack. That, I feel, is wrong. Modest booing is okay, but outright abusive yelling is wrong. With that established, I go now back to the point at hand. – I believe people like Wilson can justify their actions because they do not wholly believe Obama exists as president. I take many on their word that they really do believe that the President (regardless of your and his political ideology) is deserving of respect. Yet, if you believe there are questions of the legitimacy of Obama as president, then it becomes easy to attack him because you are, in your mind, no longer attacking the real President.
By my thinking, Wilson’s outburst is not a byproduct of racism or the hot button issues of healthcare and/or immigration or the usual pop psychology rationales. I feel it is instead the natural consequence of a concerted effort to undermine Obama’s credibility of the legitimate President of the United States. By painting Obama as overwhelmingly “other” he has become other. By making a concerted effort to undermine Obama’s legitimacy he has, in those same minds, become illegitimate. The seeds of attack are being sown in unexpected ways. Rather than weakening Obama’s support, Republicans are weakening their own ability to view Obama with the respect that I honestly believe they feel the Presidency is owed. Though Wilson has apologized and (depending on sources) seems genuinely embarrassed by his actions, I somehow doubt that he would have been quite so willing to cross the line that he did had there not been a year and a half of nonsense surrounding the President’s authenticity as a supporter of American and our values. It is easy to scream at a communistic, terrorist loving, Kenyan – significantly easier than the legitimately elected President of the United States of America.