Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst last week drew new recriminations from his colleagues Tuesday, with a member of the Congressional Black Caucus suggesting that a failure to rebuke the South Carolina Republican would be tantamount to supporting the most blatant form of organized racism in American history.
Making an obvious reference to the Ku Klux Klan, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said Tuesday that people will be putting on "white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside" if emerging racist attitudes, which he says were subtly supported by Wilson, are not rebuked. He said Wilson must be disciplined as an example.
Hours later, the House passed a resolution to formally admonish Wilson, who bellowed "You lie!" as President Obama delivered a health care reform address to a joint session of Congress last Wednesday. House Democratic leaders had decided days ago to move forward with the measure if Wilson did not apologize on the House floor.
But although Wilson was widely condemned by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for breaching protocol, some went a step further and accused Wilson of being racially motivated.
"He did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks -- if I were a betting man I would say it instigated more racist sentiment," Johnson said Tuesday. "And so I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people. ... That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents it. He's the face of it."
Johnson seemed to reference the protests held in Washington, D.C., on Saturday in making his claim. While many protesters were there to demonstrate against big government and federal over-spending, Johnson argued that a "fringe" element is motivated by race and that Wilson "winked" at that fringe with his behavior.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in her column Sunday that Wilson's outburst convinced her that racial angst is the underlying motive among Obama critics like Wilson.
"I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer ... had much to do with race," she wrote. "But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it."
Dowd wrote that Wilson "clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that he "did not take a racial connotation" from Wilson's outburst.
"The attacks on President Obama are harsh. I hope they are not racially motivated," he said.