We learned last week that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R), at a town-hall meeting in his Florida district, questions the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate. Yesterday, he made matters much worse.
At the town-hall meeting, it seemed at least plausible to me that the far-right Republican was simply humoring a strange constituent. Stearns didn't bring up the "birther" garbage, but instead lent it credence in his public remarks, which was certainly irresponsible and offensive, but at least left open the possibility that Stearns doesn't seriously believe this nonsense.
Alas, the congressman meant what he said.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), a top member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Tuesday said he's not yet convinced that President Obama's birth certificate is legitimate.
"I am, shall we say, looking at all the evidence," Stearns told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.
I have no idea what "shall we say" means in that sentence, and "all the evidence" is already available.
Stearns added that Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio is engaged in some kind of inquiry, so the congressman said it's not "unreasonable" to wait to make "a final decision" on whether or not the president was born in the United States.
Remember, Cliff Stearns isn't just some random media personality or right-wing blogger, saying foolish things in public for attention. He's a 12-term congressman and the chairman of a House committee panel on oversight and investigations.
This is, in other words, a lawmaker who should have some idea what he's talking about.
As for the larger context, there are two broader points to keep in mind. First, there's simply no sane reason for this issue to be open to question. Second, when we talk about a deep strain of madness that's overcome much of the Republican Party in the Obama era, Stearns' birther talk might as well be Exhibit A.