In a little less than a month, Rep Joe Wilson, R-S.C., went from virtual unknown to a man with real star power in the Republican Party. He's raised almost $2 million for his reelection campaign, been tapped for a fundraising appeal for the National Republican Congressional Committee and is now even heading out to stump for other candidates. And all it took for him to make that transition was a single moment, when he decided to interrupt President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress by shouting out "You lie!"
What Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., did on the House floor Tuesday night may not be directly comparable to what Wilson did -- he said that the Republican healthcare plan is "don't get sick," but if you do, "die quickly," but he didn't interrupt the president in front of Congress and a prime-time national audience. Still, the reactions the two men have gotten from their respective party's bases have been strikingly similar. Grayson, who's serving his first term, probably won't get the kind of campaign invitations from high-profile colleagues that Wilson has -- but he has taken in more than $115,000 from just one fundraising Web site, ActBlue.com.
"We've had thousands of new contributors to our campaign, we've received 6,000 e-mails in less than 24 hours," Grayson told Salon. "People are urging us to make sure that we go ahead and take care of America's business, and they're applauding the fact that a congressman had the guts to say the truth and speak the truth to power."
It comes down to this: Whether they want to believe it or not, the passionate people on both sides of the political divide are more alike than they realize. Both sides believe the party that represents them isn't forceful enough, that it rolls over for its opposition, no matter how malicious that opposition might be. And when they find someone who's willing to say what they think needs saying -- even if that thing isn't really true, even if it involves yelling at the president or accusing opponents of wanting people to die quickly -- they can be energized pretty quickly. If that person is, like Wilson and Grayson, unwilling to give in when the other side starts howling, well, that only adds to their new aura.