May 21, 2012

IF ONE-FIFTIETH of 1 percent of Arizonans demanded that Ken Bennett, the state’s Republican secretary of state, go to work in the nude, would he comply? Not likely. After all, Mr. Bennett, the former Republican president of the Arizona Senate, is planning to run for governor in two years. It wouldn’t pay to pander to crackpots — and humiliate himself in the bargain. Or would it?

The question arises because Mr. Bennett, allegedly in response to e-mailed requests from 1,200 Arizonans, has demanded that Hawaii provide him with verification of President Obama’s birth certificate. If he doesn’t get it, he says, he might strike the president’s name from the state’s ballot this fall.

[Read how commenters are responding to this column, in Rachel Manteuffel’s PostScript.]

Never mind that Hawaii has confirmed publicly and repeatedly, since before the 2008 presidential election, that Mr. Obama was born there; that the Hawaii Department of Health has released both the short and long forms of the president’s birth certificate; and that all this information, along with clear-as-a-bell explanations, is available to the public online. Mr. Bennett insists that none of that is sufficient proof for the Show Me Your Papers State.

Mr. Bennett hastens to add that he is no birther. Of course he isn’t: Everyone knows that birthers — the few that remain against the overwhelming facts of documentary evidence — are half-baked clowns who live for their pet conspiracy theory. And Mr. Bennett, an energy company CEO and plausible gubernatorial candidate in a midsize state, couldn’t really be one of those. Could he?

Charity overcomes us, so we assume not. More likely, he is simply throwing a bone to the birthers, who in most states constitute a laughable fringe of the Republican Party.

Hawaii may yet furnish Mr. Bennett with the already-public documentation he wants. So far, in compliance with state law, it has invited him to provide the legal authority under which the request was made.

Fine. Let the buffoonery play through its final act. We’re confident that, in the end, Mr. Bennett will ensure that Arizona’s ballot includes the name of the president of the United States, all the while insisting, disingenuously, that his actions were merely an instance of due diligence.

But by threatening to exclude Mr. Obama from the ballot, Mr. Bennett transformed what should have been a farcical sideshow of the 2012 election into an actual menace to democracy. He legitimized the lunatic leanings of the United States’, and his party’s, most extreme elements. He put it in the minds of radicals everywhere that elected officials, for the shabbiest reasons (or none at all), can float the idea of bending ballot rules and suffer no adverse consequence.

In the process, he shamed Arizona on the 100th anniversary of its statehood, giving it the appearance of a banana republic that’s come unhinged under the influence of partisan fever.