Bob Etheridge and Phil Hare, the Meltdown Caucus

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 4 2010 9:30 AM

Bob Etheridge and Phil Hare, the Meltdown Caucus

Before the election, I noted that a number of Democrats had put themselves in trouble -- more trouble than their votes would have put them in -- by acting like asses on video that had been uploaded and hyped up for months afterward. Two of those Democrats, Bob Etheridge and Phil Hare, lost.

Now, the hit on Hare was obvious. He stubbornly and unflatteringly rejected the premises of a group of Tea Partiers, telling them he didn't "worry about the Constitution" when voting to cover more people with health care bills. The man taping the video laughed "jackpot, brother!" He realized he'd just taken down a congressman.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

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Hare later tried to recover:

He failed, obviously.

The situation with Etheridge was more intriguing. In June, two young men identifying themselves as "students" found Etheridge walking to a fundraiser and asked "do you fully support the Obama agenda?" Etheridge blew up, pushing away the cameras and headlocking one of the young men as the other one filmed. I remember this very well, because at the time I said Etheridge "pulled the student to his side and grabbed him in a hug," and the Drudge Report, flooding the zone on the story, accused me of dismissing the "assault" a mere "hug." (This produced a day or so of very interesting reader mail.) I was asking who the young men were, because neither Etheridge or his opponent knew, which meant Etheridge couldn't apologize in person and the local GOP couldn't call on them to follow up.

Finally, we find out who they were . Sort of.

[Republicans] also tried to push Democrats into retirement, using what was described in the presentation as "guerilla tactics" like chasing Democratic members down with video cameras and pressing them to explain votes or positions. (One target, Representative Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, had to apologize for manhandling one of his inquisitors in a clip memorialized on YouTube. Only this week did Republican strategists acknowledge they were behind the episode.) 

Does that matter? No. Etheridge manhandled the two men, and that's all that matters. But when you think back to that week in June you realize how brilliant the guerrilla tactic was. The two men would only identify themselves as "students working on a project." The political press, with a hot video but few scraps of information to go on, reported that Etheridge had assaulted "college students." The anonymity of the videographers didn't matter, because the news cycle doesn't wait for details. So don't expect to slip up and embarrass yourself on video and expect the media to bail you out.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.