By John Fund – A congressman who stands six feet, six inches tall leaves a Washington D.C. fundraiser for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. North Carolina Democrat Bob Etheridge is approached by two young people with video cameras, who ask: “Do you fully support the Obama agenda?”
The congressman’s response — in what are said to be the unedited videos posted on BigGovernment.com — is nothing short of bizarre. “Who are you?,” he asks, as he grabs one of the cameramen by the wrist and neck. “I have a right to know who you are,” Mr. Etheridge demands repeatedly, until the self-professed student cameraman finally breaks free.
Mr. Etheridge has apologized for his behavior, and clearly wants the story to go away. He is explicitly not repeating Democratic Party talking points, which have already attacked BigGovernment.com as a “discredited” source because of the ACORN videos it ran last year — videos that resulted in Congress passing a ban on ACORN’s funding and the effective dismantling of the group.
That said, there are unanswered questions, such as why the two young men insist on remaining anonymous. BigGovernment.com says it doesn’t know who they are and had nothing to do with their activities. Some liberal bloggers speculate the two are Republican video “trackers” hired to stalk Rep. Etheridge. Such “trackers” have become common on the campaign trail — recall the notorious incident in 2006 when GOP Senator George Allen referred to a young man tracking him as a “macaca,” which launched a controversy that played a role in Mr. Allen’s 9,000-vote loss to Democrat Jim Webb.
As a former Superintendent of Public Instruction in his native North Carolina, Mr. Etheridge knows he was foolish to manhandle one of the young men with almost no provocation. “I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction,” he said. Nonetheless, the incident is likely to have political consequences. The video inevitably will be featured in commercials this fall, no doubt playing into Republican charges that the seven-term congressman has grown arrogant in office. Mr. Etheridge faces an attractive Tea Party-backed candidate in GOPer Renee Ellmers, a surgical nurse who manages her husband’s medical practice.
John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal