Farewell to Tigger Wu


Asian Americans as a group are known both for their political anonymity and scarcity. So anyone who can claim to be the first Chinese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives is a big deal.

Someone should have told that to David Wu.

Maybe he could have hit on Tiger Mom and not her kid.

As a de facto representative not just for Oregon, but for Asian Americans everywhere, Wu was supposed to be a leader, not the butt of jokes.

But did you catch Letterman Tuesday night as he put the nails on Wu’s political career?

David Letterman: Do you folks know anything about Congressman Wu? Congressman Wu? (silence)
Paul Shaffer: Ah, who?
Letterman: Congressman Wu?
Shaffer: Who?
Letterman: Wu? Congressman Wu?
Shaffer: Wu Who?
Letterman: Yes, Wu that’s right?
Shaffer: Who Wu?
Letterman: Yes, well, he resigned apparently. He was making unwanted advances. And I’m thinking wooo… (ten seconds of laughter and applause). Something like this hasn’t happened in, oh, gosh, a week or so… (laughter)… Unwanted advances? Do these guys ever make wanted advances? Wu.
Shaffer: Hu? What?
Letterman: Yes.

I don’t suppose when Wu came out of nowhere in 1998 to win a House seat in Oregon, he figured his greatest mark in American pop culture would be to inspire a Letterman reprise of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”

It was so painfully unfunny. But true. Just like all those Weiner jokes weren’t funny, but true.

If Wu were more sympathetic, there may even be some people decrying Letterman for racial insensitivity. Making fun of foreign names is so Racism 101, right? But not after Wu’s resignation, where instead of a distinguished legislator, Wu’s just the latest in the long line of disgraced congressional weiners. (There does seem to be way too many of them these days. Maybe along with debt ceilings and spending limits, Congress should set a limit on their libidos.)

At least Wu wasn’t sexting (as far as we know, though his target was a child of the digital age).

It wasn’t supposed to go this way for the Taiwan-born Harvard Med student who switched to become a Yale lawyer. He was everything Asian Americans are supposed to be: bright, hard-working, industrious.

But sometimes he appeared a tad clueless, at least when it came to decorum and finesse.

As a Congressional freshman, Wu had been so ambitious and eager to serve that he lobbied to be named to the powerful Appropriations Committee. No one gets appointed to Appropriations as a rookie, and reports say he alienated House leadership in his quest. Wu’s handling of the situation is seen as the first of many political and personal missteps that led us to this point.

Not that any one thing was enough to kill his career. Not his divorce in 2009. Or crashing into a parked car in a residential area in 2010. Or talking his way out of an airport security check. Or the reports of drinking and pill-popping (Oxycodone anyone?). Or the bizarre behavior around Halloween last year (did you see him in that Tigger outfit?).

All of it would seem to diminish Wu’s stature, credibility, and his ability to serve.

But Wu withstood it all, just as you’d expect of a seven-term member of Congress.

He was beginning to look like a lifer, an untouchable who could stay in the job, an automatic 60 to 70 percent victor every two years, without any heavy lifting. You know the type because you don’t know them at all. No one knows them outside their districts.

When I worked briefly in Congress as a staffer, the lifers there had such a reverence for the job, the office, the Capitol itself. It’s not just an exclusive club, it’s Democracy’s Cathedral. Nirvana for policy wonks.

I think Wu got bored with it all.

Maybe that explains the Tigger outfit?

And when your personal life turns into a swamp as well, I think that’s when you begin to mumble to the young and impressionable pre-intern crowd, “By the way, did you know I’m a member of Congress?”

Wu’s alleged sexual encounter with an 18-year-old, the daughter of a childhood friend, took place around Thanksgiving 2010 in California. His reaction, or lack of it, is a tip off. Certainly in a “he said, she said,” a standing congressman should prevail. Instead, Wu looks like a man seeking an exit strategy.

I think he found it, a one-way ticket out of the public eye. Public service isn’t for everyone, no matter what your ego tells you.

Perhaps now out of the spotlight, if Wu needs help, he can get it.

I wish him well.

And I’ll try not to laugh when I see that Tigger photo that’s all over the net. David Wu was not Tigger. He represented real hope. When Wu first came on the scene, here was a guy, an immigrant from Taiwan with an Ivy League pedigree, who maybe could take it a step further from the stalwart legislators and public servants in the House, guys like Mineta and Matsui. Or even the first Chinese American in the Senate, Hiram Fong.

That was Wu’s promise.

Wu didn’t flame out. It was slow burn. Half a generation as an Oregon congressman, he could have built a decent legacy. Instead, he goes in disgrace the way of another Asian immigrant turned legislator, the Korean American Jay Kim, who was caught accepting hundreds of thousands in improper campaign funds.

Sex, money. Asian American politicians, no different from any other politicians. There’s just not enough of them in Congress.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
read Emil's bio