In Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio styles himself the toughest lawman in the nation. He's fed convicts unappetizing green baloney and made his oh-so-macho offenders wear pink underwear.
He's also embraced the assertion that President Obama is not qualified to serve as president because he can't prove he's a U.S. citizen -- the "birther" conspiracy.
Now the lead investigator in Sheriff Arpaio's ad hoc probe into the president's birth certificate has joined with a well-known political conspiracy writer to peddle the results of their inquiry as an e-book, "A Question of Eligibility."
There's nothing really new, here. Trying to use rational thought to combat such conspiracies will be futile. It's like arguing with someone who believes the 1969 moon landing was faked.
As the National Review noted this week, "Such conspiracy theories are immortal because one of the features of a really good conspiracy theory is that very lack of evidence for the theory is taken to be yet more proof of the conspiracy. They are long-lived because the underlying mental pathologies are long-lived: As T.S. Eliot put it, 'Humankind cannot bear very much reality.' "
Republicans ready to undertake the task of replacing Mr. Obama should steer far clear of this birther garbage. If Republican candidates or operatives can be bamboozled down these silly dead ends, the president's men will have succeeded not only in marginalizing his challengers, but in keeping them off the very, vital issues where Mr. Obama is weakest.
Mr. Obama's re-election team must positively salivate at a new chance to characterize his political opponents as desperate wing-nuts and unstable conspiracy freaks.
There is much at stake in the 2012 election. The GOP cannot get sidetracked.
"Republicans who have chosen to associate with the birthers have done their party and their country a disservice," the National Review noted. "Those who cannot distinguish between the birthers' flim-flam and the critical questions that face our nation in 2012 will not win and do not deserve to."
It's a message serious candidates will take to heart.