Wausau Daily Herald: Rep. Sean Duffy ambush video reveals ... not much

Jul 27, 2012In the News

Robert Mentzer

In the parking lot in front of the Wausau Daily Herald's office, where he'd just been interviewed by the Editorial Board, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy on Monday afternoon was approached by a gray-haired man wearing a cap. Trailing the man: someone with a camera.

"Mr. Duffy!" the gray-haired man called out.

"Hey, good to see you guys, how are you doing?" Duffy said.

"When are you going to host the next town hall?"

In the 37-second video clip of the encounter posted to YouTube, the Weston Republican says that he's committed to holding one town hall each year -- more precisely, one per county in his district each year -- but that he's already had one in Wausau this year, and if the man has a concern he can set up an appointment with Duffy's office and they'll be happy to have him come by.

Then he gets into his car and drives away. To a closed car door, the gray-haired man tries to say something about raising the minimum wage.

And that's it. On a brusqueness scale from one to 10, Duffy is maybe, maybe a three. His tone says, "I don't really want to talk about this right now," but he isn't overtly rude, only a little curt.

No matter. On YouTube, the video carried the title "Rep. Sean Duffy Running Scared From His Constituents." The influential liberal blog ThinkProgress posted about it; so did a handful of liberal blogs in Wisconsin. People tweeted out links to it and emailed me to ask if I'd seen it.

Yes, I've seen it. And I think it's a dumb, destructive way to do politics.

In fact, I have a simple question: Who is this video meant to persuade, and of what?

The putative reason the gray-haired man -- Wayne Olson, 73, of Wausau, according to the Huffington Post, which reported on the video -- had for approaching Duffy was to ask about a campaign by the liberal group Wisconsin Jobs Now that aims to build support for increasing the minimum wage to around $10 per hour. That's a totally legitimate issue and worth discussing.

But let's be real. Was Olson, approaching without notice in a parking lot, camera rolling, really hoping for a reasoned policy discussion? Doubtful. He was hoping to capture some embarrassing footage.

I've got no objection in principle to activists trying to embarrass members of Congress. In 2011, Duffy said something dumb at a town hall about "struggling" on his six-figure congressional salary. He's still getting bludgeoned for it, which basically seems fair enough to me.

This manufactured confrontation, if it can be called a confrontation, feels more like an insult to our intelligence.

Duffy's chief of staff Brandon Moody this week said people follow Duffy around with cameras all the time, to a point that borders on harassment. An activist associated with CREDO, a liberal super PAC that funds Wisconsin Jobs Now, followed Duffy at one of his recent job fairs, Moody said.

"Then they followed him to his car. Then they followed him to a restaurant and sat in a booth next to him at a restaurant. Then they followed him to stop for gas, then to his next meeting, and then to his district office," Moody said. "For more than three hours, they followed him."

The activists aren't breaking any laws, Moody said. But clearly their goal on some level is to rattle Duffy, to make him feel harrassed.

It's not necessary to feel sorry for Duffy -- who has made the choice more than once in his life voluntarily to give up a large share of his privacy -- to believe there's something wrong with this sort of tactic.

And what about substance? Does Duffy have a position on increasing the federal minimum wage?

Moody answered that it's complicated and it would depend on the specifics of a proposal.

"I'm sure in certain instances he'd be supportive," Moody said.

In other words, this is an issue where petitioning the congressman through normal channels -- phone calls, emails and meetings with staff -- actually might make a difference.

But you know what almost certainly won't secure Duffy's support on the issue? Rushing up to him with a camera rolling, hoping to capture a YouTube-ready confrontation.

That's not a discussion, that's just theater. And it's not even all that great as theater.

Read the full article online HERE.