Charles Bierbauer, former CNN White House correspondent, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Information Studies, University of South Carolina
By Ross K. Baker
The House of Representatives is a much more raucous place than the Senate. During debates, there’s a lot of yelling in the House. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is to whom these comments are directed. Never to a president. There’s kind of code with members of Congress — most of them, anyway — that’s very similar to the code in the military: If you have an unpopular commander, the rule is you salute the uniform, not the man. You respect the office. That’s the protocol that Rep. Joe Wilson violated.
I don’t know of another example of that kind of heckling of a president in an address to a joint session of Congress. Members can express their disapproval many ways, you sometimes hear lots of groaning. Most of it is done in a much more restrained way. But the idea of yelling out “You lie!,” to my knowledge, is without precedent. Wilson got completely out of hand. Has the character of debate in Congress declined several notches below what it was once was? Yeah, that’s true. It’s a nasty, backbiting kind of place.
Ross K. Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University, and author of “House and Senate” (W.W. Norton)