All eyes were on Barack Obama entering Wednesday night's address to Congress, but a little-known South Carolina Republican may have done more than the president’s combative speech to unify besieged Democrats around health care reform.
The night's defining moment — which Democrats hope to transform into a turning point – came when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted "You lie!" as Obama claimed his plan wouldn't offer free care to illegal immigrants.
Wilson's boorishness — for which he quickly apologized — enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.
It also overshadowed a speech that included some of Obama's harshest attacks on his GOP critics to date, including a denunciation of "death panel" alarmists as liars — a veiled swipe at Sarah Palin — and a warning to Republicans who want to "kill" reform.
"What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government," Obama said. "Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.
"Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed," he added, to Democratic cheers.
The president's combativeness, coupled with Wilson's behavior, clearly energized Democrats — to the point where few were in a mood to criticize Obama's lack of specifics or the fact that he offered no ironclad commitment to inserting a robust public option in the final legislation.