August is a time for members of Congress to return to their districts to connect with the voters they represent–and, in some cases, to make fools of themselves.
Take Texas Representative Blake Farenthold, who was asked a question about President Obama’s birth certificate. Rather than dismissing the question as total nonsense, Mr. Farenthold indulged his conspiracy-minded constituent, telling her, “I think, unfortunately, the horse is already out of the barn on this, on the whole birth certificate issue.” He bemoaned the fact that the window has shut on the ability of the legislative branch to do anything about it. “The original Congress — when his eligibility came up — should’ve looked into it and they didn’t,” Mr. Farenthold said. “I’m not sure how we fix it.”
The Texas representative then went on to say this:
You tie it into a question I get a lot. If everyone’s so unhappy with the president’s done, why don’t you impeach him? I’ll give you a real frank answer about that. If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted.
Now I have no idea if Mr. Farenthold believes this or is simply afraid to challenge the kooky theories of a constituent. In either case, this exchange is (for Republicans at least) depressing. The assertion that it is “unfortunate” that the whole birth certificate issue is “out of the barn” and therefore nothing can be done about it is the observation of a fevered mind. And to assert that “you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives” to impeach President Obama is to pitch one’s tent in the middle of Fantasy Island.
I understand that congressmen say stupid things from time to time. And I understand that Mr. Farenthold is an obscure back-bencher who doesn’t speak for most of his colleagues. Still, the fact that a member of the House of Representatives would treat lunatic theories as serious is a problem. It does reflect poorly not only on Farenthold but the party he represents. And what he said is damaging, since it will confirm in the minds of rational people that at least among some of its elected representatives, the Republican Party is comprised of conspiratorial nuts.
When I worked in the Bush White House, I saw countless examples of Bush Derangement Syndrome among Democrats and liberals. I would have hoped that when Barack Obama took the oath of office, Republicans and conservative lawmakers wouldn’t suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome. But it turns out that irrational hate and fear–and giving voice to cockeyed conspiracy theories–is a bi-partisan affliction.