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All the turmoil is neither healthy nor natural

I don't understand why people are criticizing Representative Joe Wilson for shouting out "You lie" during President Barack Obama's speech to Congress recently. He has been denounced as rude, vulgar and worse. The House of Representatives has censured him. One liberal commentator even went so far as to call him un-American.

Nonsense, I say. Calling the president a liar is as American as protesting a war or burning the flag. The First Amendment to the Constitution gives every American the right to speak his mind, no matter how boorish, ignorant and puerile that mind may be.

Wilson, under pressure from his colleagues, recanted his action but he didn't seem very contrite. His constituents, on the other hand, loved it.

"I'm proud of my congressman," said one typical South Carolinian. And Rush Limbaugh endorsed his behavior, which, for a Republican, is like a Catholic getting a "well done" from the Pope.

It's not always easy for a politician to stand up for the right of every American to be as dumb as he wants to be, but someone's got to do it. It's the price we pay for freedom.

The next time a protester stands up during a congressional debate on Iraq or Afghanistan and yells "Stop the war!" I'm sure that Mr. Wilson will rush to his or her defense, on principle.

Obama's speech was pretty good I thought, but the reaction of the Republicans in the Chamber is what was priceless.

They sat there looking like a group of sullen schoolboys being lectured on deportment by their headmaster.

They apparently were afraid to applaud any of the president's statements lest Limbaugh was watching. Senator Lindsey Graham, another South Carolina Republican, was about to applaud once but caught himself and changed in mid-clap to a rubbing together of the hands, as though he were playing Pontius Pilate in a community passion play.

The Republicans seem determined to oppose everything Obama suggests, down to the announcement of National Doughnut Week.

This, they think, will lead them back to power. They obviously have forgotten what they did with the power when they had it -- lead us into two awful wars and bring the economy to the edge of disaster -- and they're counting on the American people to do the same.

Maybe it will work. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the collective memory of the American people. However, let us consider for a moment the recent past:

It was Republicans who thrust us into the jaws of economic collapse and Obama who rescued us. Do the Republicans admit that? No. Does Obama get any credit for it? No. Instead, he gets complaints about bailouts, orchestrated protests against the deficit, angry people shouting down proponents of health care reform.

Had John McCain won the election with a Republican majority in Congress, the deficit would be even higher and unemployment twice what it is now.

The Republicans did not and do not have a single idea for fixing things beyond cutting spending and hoping for the best. That's what Herbert Hoover did in the 1930s. How'd that work out, anyway?

I'm getting worried about the country. All of this turmoil we're having is neither healthy nor natural. It is hysteria reminiscent of the days of McCarthyism when to disagree with the Right was to be labeled a Communist. Moreover, there's a sense of violence in the air, with people appearing at political rallies carrying guns, both pro- and anti-abortionists getting murdered and protesters carrying threatening signs.

You know, virtually every controversial American leader for the past 150 years has been shot at, often fatally. Lincoln, both Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt all took bullets, while Franklin D. Roosevelt was fired upon.

It's the American way. There are way too many nuts out there with guns and the Republican idea of fun is to stir them up.

Very worried.

Donald Kaul, retired as Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register, has covered the nation's capital for more than three decades.