The United States Senate has been called "the greatest deliberative body in the world." It won't be that for long if Congressman John Cooksey of Monroe gets there.
Cooksey, an arch-conservative Republican, is planning to run against Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat nearing the end of her first term. Cooksey made news last week for some bone-headed comments about airport security and racial profiling in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"If I see someone comes in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over," Cooksey said during an interview with Louisiana Radio Network.
Cooksey's comment came last Monday, the same day that President Bush, a fellow Republican, visited an Islamic mosque and praised mainstream Islam as a religion of peace. Bush's visit underscored the importance of ethnic and religious tolerance in the wake of the terrorist attacks, points he reiterated in his speech to Congress and the nation last Thursday.
Such subtleties apparently were lost on Cooksey, who issued a Clintonesque apology last Thursday: "My choice of words was not a good choice of words."
His choice of words wasn't even grammatically correct. Moreover, racial profiling is illegal -- even by the right-wing standards of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Which is not to say that airport security shouldn't be substantially beefed up. It has been. And let's face it, there's a fine line -- one that's often blurred -- between improved security measures and racial profiling. But Cooksey went way beyond the bounds of reason. He committed the very sin President Bush was admonishing Americans not to commit, and he did it in the crudest fashion.
No doubt Cooksey's comment will play well among his right-wing constituents. His congressional district was a stronghold for neo-Nazi David Duke, who already has sided with the terrorists by saying the attacks were the result of America's support for Israel.
But Cooksey should know that he already has the redneck vote locked up against Landrieu, whose critics say she's too liberal for Louisiana. If he hopes to beat her, he'll have to capture the middle. It's difficult to foresee moderates voting for a man prone to intolerance and irrational outbursts.
Consider, for example, the fact that many people from south Louisiana are of Lebanese descent. Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and state Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell are Lebanese Americans. Ieyoub, a Democrat, doubtless would not support Cooksey anyway. But Terrell is a Republican -- and she reportedly wants to run against Landrieu herself, if Cooksey doesn't run.
What should Terrell do now? Support a man who thinks her cousins should be stopped and frisked every time they enter an airport because their skin might be a shade too swarthy?
With such GOP lions as Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm already announcing their retirements from the Senate, Landrieu was looking less and less like a prime target for the national Republicans. Cooksey's comments will make him an even lower fundraising priority now.
Cooksey's political consultant, Roy Fletcher, told John Maginnis that the congressman's remarks at least got him some free publicity. In politics, there's a lot of truth to the notion that any publicity is good publicity. But, hopefully, voters will recognize the difference between fame and notoriety. That's why Duke never won a statewide election.
In the meantime, devout Muslims should steer clear of the Monroe airport.
Better yet, perhaps Cooksey should start wearing a diaper on his head. He obviously has you-know-what for brains.