Posted: Sept. 17, 2009
"THAT'S A LIE": THE DELAWARE PRECEDENT
By Celia Cohen
The chief executive was speaking before the legislative branch when he was interrupted.
"That's a lie!"
It happened here in Delaware, a long time ago.
The chief executive was Gov. Charlie Terry, a magisterial figure who was the chief justice before he left the state Supreme Court to win the gubernatorial election as a Democrat in 1964.
He was interrupted by a Republican state representative, a 28-year-old lawyer in his first term by the name of Mike Castle.
Guess who had visions of Charlie Terry dancing in his head last week as he sat in the Capitol, now as a nine-term congressman and a former governor himself, and heard President Barack Obama assailed by an accusatory shout.
Castle was one row behind and about five seats over from Congressman Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican whose two words broke upon the national decorum like a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl.
This went beyond the World Wrestling atmosphere that customarily surrounds a presidential address. It was easy to tell how startling it was by looking at Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sitting in back of Obama.
They were shocked. Simply shocked. Even politicians as practiced as they were forgot to be shocked! shocked!
Castle did not learn until later who yelled out. He has not spoken to Wilson, but he can identify.
"Having been there myself, it's just spontaneous. You just don't think about it. You regret it before you get the words out," he said. "Of all the things I've done in politics, that's what I regret the most."
It was April 2, 1968, when Castle brought legislative proceedings to a stop. The state was preoccupied with solving a bus service crisis in Wilmington, and a joint committee was holding a hearing. The newspaper account was bylined by political writer Ralph Moyed.
Castle was as interested as anyone. The district he represented was in the city. A day or so before, he put his legal skills to use and pulled an all-nighter to draft a bill dealing with the situation. He was tired and invested, not to mention young and hot-headed.
The hearing was in the Senate chamber. Terry was watching from the gallery above the floor and decided to come down and testify himself. He complained that the Republicans had done nothing about the problem.
It was too much for Castle after his all-nighter. "That's a lie!" he blurted and then kept talking to explain why -- citing his own bill and another one the Republicans introduced in the Senate.
"You are not making true statements," Castle said.
"You can't call the governor a liar," Terry shot back.
Castle apologized. The rest of the hearing was canceled. Castle went upstairs to Terry's office and apologized again.
"I shouldn't have spoken out for starters, but I should have used different words. I should have said, 'That's wrong,'" Castle said Thursday in a telephone interview.
With a hindsight that is 41 years long, Castle believes Joe Wilson was right to apologize to the president but also should have gone to the floor to apologize before the House of Representatives.
Castle nevertheless voted against the resolution of disapproval, reasoning that the apology to Obama sufficed. He remains unhappy that Republicans and Democrats have used the episode for fund raising -- "It's not very becoming of either party."
Back then, Terry told Castle he had no future in the state. Castle thought he was probably right.
Not every statement has to be a lie to be untrue.