Like Matthew Yglesias, I'm more upset about Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" statement being
false potentially misleading than about presidential heckling per se. And while Wilson's outburst was relatively unusual in recent history, it's important to remember that standards of political civility have changed. Consider, for instance, the famous caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Rep. Preston Brooks:
Other countries, too, have more confrontational politics in their legislative chambers:
In comparison, a little heckling is no big deal.
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
The interpretation of Obama's statement -- and Wilson's response -- depends on how you define "insure" and "reforms." Obama is clearly referring to the the false claim that health care reform would provide free health insurance to illegal immigrants. Many people may interpret Wilson's outburst as a defense of this claim (it's impossible to know what he was thinking). However, as Rob correctly points out, Obama's reforms would apply to everyone -- including illegal immigrants -- who purchases coverage through health insurance exchanges, including from a proposed government insurance program known as the public option. If you define the public option as insuring someone and describe it as a reform, then Obama's statement could be seen as misleading and Wilson's point could be seen as more supportable.
As such, I've revised the statement above to describe Wilson's statement as potentially misleading rather than false.
Update 9/10 2:10 PM: Matthew Yglesias objects to the passage above:
Brendan Nyhan bends over backwards to construct an interpretation of the situation such that Rep Wilson is merely being highly misleading rather than telling an outright falsehood...
In other words, though the bills would prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving any taxpayer assistance in purchasing health insurance, the proposals on the table don’t do anything special to prevent an undocumented immigrant from buying health insurance with his own money. To characterize this as “insur[ing] illegal immigrants” strikes me as about on a par with claiming that Obama’s health care plans give ibuprofen to illegal immigrants. After all, nothing in the bill stops illegal immigrants from buying ibuprofen in a store! And the very same FDA regulations that assure citizens and legal residents and tourists of the safety of ibuprofen will also benefit illegal immigrants.
I think this is unfair. The government would run the public option, which would end up insuring some illegal immigrants. Obama's denial that "our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants" is therefore imprecise -- he means the proposed legislation would not subsidize the insurance costs of illegal immigrants. Yglesias and I know what Obama meant; others may not. Moreover, views differ over the extent to which the public option would end up being publicly subsidized in practice -- many people, including me, believe it would end up receiving significant direct or indirect subsidies. In other words, getting insurance from the public option may be more like buying ibuprofen in one of those subsidized tax-free stores on military bases. From this perspective, you can argue that illegal immigrants would receive some benefit.
As yet additional context, here's Wilson responding in a press interview in which he cites verification amendments introduced by Republicans in committee:
In this case, the argument is that the bill would also not take sufficient steps to verify the eligibility of applicants for insurance subsidies, leading to fraudulent claims. (Whether that's true or not is an empirical question that I can't answer.)
Update 9/11 7:36 AM: See also this followup from Politifact which provides more detail on the question of whether illegal immigrants could fraudulently obtain insurance subsidies.
Also, the online CBS News show Washington Unplugged has compiled an impressive highlight reel of political fights, including a lawmaker who uses a judo throw (!) about halfway through the clip (via Taegan Goddard):