My model for legislative/executive interaction is the British Parliment's question time. There, the Prime Minister has to appear before the House of Commons once a week to face questions put to him or her by a politely unruly chamber of lawmakers. It is frequently great entertainment as the politicians get into it on matters greats and small, often obscure to us. And it looks like something is getting done, understandings are reached, concensus formed, not from opposite ends of an avenue, but in the same room.
I especially like the harrahs, harumphs, hoots and other noises emanating from the gallery as the Prime Minister tries to explain himself to supporters and opponents. Tony Blair was particularly good at this sort of thing, his impish grin and snappy comebacks as he jumped up and down from his chair making great theater as the reactions yea and nay echoed through the chamber. I always thought this kind of weekly grilling by the loyal opposition should be mandatory here. Tightly-scripted clueless boobs like Ronald Reagan and Junior Bush would have been exposed for the frauds that they were in about ten minutes.
But there are limits to the reactions of the opposition during question time, and I'm sure none of them have to be enumerated for the proper English to follow the appropriate protocol. The low dull roar of even the most adamant disapproval is not anything close to a boo or hiss. Any clown shouting out "You lie!" at the Prime Minister would be dragged out by his own party members, stripped of his credentials and kicked out of office.
The American experience with Congress in joint session with the President is much less interactive and spontaneous. The main method of expressing approval or disapproval is standing and applauding or sitting on your hands. It has the effect of a lopsided wave at a baseball game where those in the diamond seats refuse to participate. There is also a smattering of sighs, chuckling and booing, the appearance of which produces even louder noises by those admonishing the noisemakers. Generally, a President of whatever persuasion is allowed to come in, do his thing, and get out so the lawmakers can start adopting, mangling or murdering his proposals the following day.
Enter the now-infamous back-bencher from South Carolina, Rep. Joe Wilson. My favorite explanation offered for his historically-unprecedented behavior is that he was too surprised by Obama's speech because a text was not handed out to Congress beforehand. You can see him now, blood boiling and redneck reddening, as he sat in his seat while the President unexpectedly (who does he think he is?) challenged the deliberate campaign of disinformation fomented by the GOP. "No death panels! No coverage for illegal immigrants!" says the illegitimate upstart. Wilson's face flushes red, a trickle of venom streaks down his chin, his body shakes.... "You lie!" He faces forward but feels the eyes in the back of his head -- where is everyone? Why isn't anyone else jumping up and cheering my clever retort? Why is everyone else willing to let that guy get away with it?? His collegues slink down in their chairs. Wilson - they think - what a dick.
"That guy". I mentioned in my last post that "that guy" is the way President Obama is referred to on right-wing radio more than in any other way. It is a way to diminish, to delegitimize the President. Joe Wilson shouted out against the President because he doesn't think he is or should be the president. To the white congressman from South Carolina, he is just another n-word, cutting across his lawn and ruining his day. Like most Republicans, he does not respect the democratic process and does not accept the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States. Wilson didn't see anything wrong with shouting at the President in Congress because, to him, he's not the President.
And, of course, Wilson was lying about Obama lying about providing health care insurance for the undocumented. You can't get much more clear than the title of H.R. 3200, Sec 246: NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS. Perhaps Wilson is so dense, he doesn't even know that (unfortunately) the undocumented won't be covered, that there would be no death panels, no rationing, no "government-run" health care (again, unfortunately), no socialism.
More likely, he knew exactly what the truth was and was overcome with emotion because Obama was exposing the lie, right there in his face. [UPDATE: Indeed, it appears Wilson is a health insurance industry stooge.] Because, without the lies, the Republicans have nothing. Their "plan" (copies of which some of them waved around at the speech) is a joke. It is basically a weak restatement of the status quo, calling for limits on malpractice lawsuit (both Drs. Death and Dismemberment have a friend in the GOP); allowing the creation of nationwide health insurance behemoths and monopolies (sure worked swell for the banks, didn't it?); requiring more publishing of the cost of procedures (let's see, should I go with the $5,000 fix for my broken leg or the $4,999 special at St. Mary's? Hmmm...); and some worthless tax credits (for those who don't have the money to front now, what good is a tax credit later?).
If I were Obama, I would have run through the GOP proposals, exposed them to the national audience, and knocked them down one-by-one. Then you would have really seen Joe Wilson's head explode.