My guess is that the most helpful boost to the cause of health care reform that happened during the President's speech last night, was South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson's shocking outburst: "You lie!" By the standards of the British House of Commons, this kind of heckling would not have been even worthy of comment. But by American standards of decorum, especially during rare appearances at joint sessions of Congress, this kind of disruption simply isn't done. Congressman Wilson, to his credit, immediately recognized the inappropriateness of his comments and apologized shortly after the speech.
The damage had already been done, however. The damage that was done was not to the President but to the cause of those opposed to health care reform legislation. While I'm sure there were a few, maybe even quite a few, people watching the speech, who jumped up and cheered when a Congressman called the President a liar, I bet most people were probably shocked by the incident and thought it went too far. And what that does is highlight the inappropriateness of the tone of the town hall protesters, and the negative tone of the Republican opponents in general. Joe Wilson tarred all of the opponents of health care reform with the brush of being angry, rude and disruptive people. Most people do not like such excessive displays of disorder. Most people find rudeness offensive. Most people get nervous when debate turns ugly or potentially violent. Most people instinctively turn against the person who commits an unacceptable breach of decorum on an occasion as sacred as a president's address to a joint session of Congress. Most people don't like it when a Congressman calls the President of the United States a liar. One of the reasons that this country elected, and then re-elected Richard Nixon, was because of a strong backlash against disruptive protesters. And that is why Congressman Wilson probably did more than anyone to advance the cause of passing health care reform, because he undoubtedly caused a lot of people in the middle (the people to whom the President's speech was mainly addressed) to support what the president was saying, and to turn against the negativists and the rabble-rousers.
Correction: I read in Andrew Sullivan's blog that even in the British House of Commons, members are not allowed to call the speaker a liar. So perhaps Joe Wilson would have been going too far even in the raucous British Parliament.