Analysis: Etheridge’s faux pas not his death knell

If you know or have met Bob Etheridge — which I’m sure many of you do or have — then it’s likely you share my surprise at the video that has now made him the subject of nationwide public scrutiny.
That surprise exists for a number of reasons, two of which stick out most.
First, Bob’s a genuinely nice guy. In my three years in Sanford, North Carolina, he’s been nothing but cordial, funny and even a bit “folksy,” whether it’s a ribbon cutting, a veterans ceremony or a political appearance. We’ve seen him calmly take heated questions in health care town halls … even answer those questions with a grin.
Even his political enemies in North Carolina are shocked at his moment of “losing it.”
Second, he’s smart. You don’t become a seven-term U.S. congressman without “knowing the score,” which makes it all the more shocking that many in the country now know Bob Etheridge as the “man who attacked a student.” He saw the camera(s) … he’s aware that we all live in the YouTube age, where falling on your head will get you a million-plus views. Calf wrangling a guy who asks you a question in public is more than enough to not only secure your place in the 24-hour news cycle, but get the political pundits chattering as well.
The video, if you haven’t seen it or heard about it by now, shows Etheridge being approached by a young man (face blurred to protect his identity) who asks about his support of President Obama’s agenda … a question that leads to Etheridge repeatedly asking the young man to identify himself. In the process, Etheridge, visibly annoyed by the line of questioning, grabs the man by his wrist and at one point, grabs him by the back of the neck to pull him in closer.
Fortunately for Etheridge, in the grand scheme of political missteps, this is merely a hiccup. Calling his actions an “attack” — as many have — is stretching it a bit.
Uncalled for? Yes. Aggressive? Yes. Worthy of an apology? Absolutely.
A criminal assault?
Count it as an interesting one-day headline grabber on level with the Virginia senator’s “macaca moment,” and the South Carolina congressman’s “You lie!” moment. Quickly … can you name either of these men?
Etheridge’s gaffe won’t have legs nationally, but it will take more than a printed apology and quick press conference to make people forget it in Central North Carolina, the only place Etheridge and his camp need to worry about right now. The “macaca” senator, Republican George Allen, lost his re-election big in 2006, months after his gaffe. And the “You lie!” congressman, Republican Joe Wilson, is up for re-election this year … same as Etheridge.
Etheridge’s opponent, Republican Renee Ellmers, has seen an upswing in popularity and campaign funds since Monday. Her Facebook site reports more than 1,000 new “fans” in the past few days, and after releasing a comment condemning Etheridge’s actions Monday, Ellmers went a step further Tuesday with her own video, again connecting Etheridge’s confrontation with his re-electability.
Whether or not this wave will carry her to a November win remains to be seen. Considering Etheridge has breezed by his GOP opponents in recent elections – the past two times defeating Dan Mansell handily – it may take a few more videos or a Gov. Mark Sanford-esque mistake to unseat the Lillington tobacco farmer.
Keep in mind, the Etheridge video isn’t without a bit of controversy on the “other side.” The students – one whose face is blurred and the other behind the camera – have yet to be identified. According to their words on the video, they are “students working on a project.” What school they’re from and what project they’re working on remains to be told.
That bit of uncertainty is enough for Democrats – and Etheridge fans – to question the validity of the video.
My intention isn’t to come off sounding like an Etheridge apologist. Regardless of who the “students” were or why they asked the relatively harmless question, he shouldn’t have reacted as he did. His apology – which has come before all the facts have been released (although AFTER the release of the tape) – is a testament that even he realizes he messed up.
His constituents have the right to question his actions, and they have a right to expect more than a “I’ve had a bad day” answer. We expect our politicians to take the heat for their votes and their actions, and when that elected official loses it, even for a moment, it’s reason for pause.
If Bob Etheridge didn’t realize he lived in the YouTube age before, he knows it now. This video may not be enough to derail his re-election, but it is enough for voters to take a closer look at him.


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