The amazing videotape below shows an encounter of Rep. Etheridge (D, NC-02) with college students outside a Nancy Pelosi Fundraiser. The students are presumably conservative activists but Etheridge quickly turns physical after the students ask the congressman to confirm that he supports the Obama agenda.
Etheridge insists that he has “a right” to know who the students are. I am not sure of the basis for that particular claim on a public street. What is clear is that he does not have the right to physical restrain a journalist or activist because they asked him a question on the street.
Even if these students were obnoxious, this appears to be a credible case of assault. While there was no serious physical harm, it is neither appropriate nor lawful to use such physical force unless threatened. The congressman is shown claiming that he is acting out of his right to know who these students are. That is not enough of a justification. This is not what is normally meant by pressing the flesh.
Watching these videos, we may have been wrong about Democratic leadership telling members to avoid public meetings and unscripted townhall events. We had assumed it was for the protection of the members.
Update: Rep. Etheridge has issued the following statement:
“I have seen the video posted on several blogs. I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction and I apologize to all involved. Throughout my many years of service to the people of North Carolina, I have always tried to treat people from all viewpoints with respect. No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response. I have and I will always work to promote a civil public discourse.”