Magazine October 5, 2009, Issue

Civil War

Joe Wilson (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Impoliteness may help the GOP, but it's still wrong

The general consensus was that Rep. Joe Wilson had done something wrong; a consensus including Wilson himself. The nature of his offense, though, caused some confusion. Some people suggested that Wilson’s incivility consisted of accusing the president of lying. That accusation — the charge that the object of criticism is intentionally uttering falsehoods, that he is speaking in bad faith — is not one that should be made lightly, although it frequently is. In the game of civil discourse, it is, when meant seriously, a way of calling time-out so that someone can be ejected.

Yet it would be absurd to …

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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