Hotheads, hot mics and duels: Is there hope for the Republic?

With health care hanging in the balance for millions of people, including 117,000 Mainers, earlier this week we were treated to the musings of a Texas blowhard named Blake Farenthold.

Farenthold is a member of Congress from Corpus Christi. He’s a lawyer and talk radio host. He’s been accused of sexual harassment by a member of his staff, and there’s a great picture floating around the Internet of him with a scantily clad woman – who isn’t his wife – while wearing ducky pajamas.

This week, in a statement dripping with misogyny, he criticized members of the United States Senate who oppose taking health care away from as many as 32 million Americans.

He said, in an apparent reference to Sen. Susan Collins, “if it was a guy from south Texas I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”

In case you don’t follow hit Broadway musicals or American dueling history, this Chief Wiggum look-alike was suggesting that if Collins wasn’t a woman, he’d challenge her to a duel, where in he’d try to kill her for disagreeing about major health care policy.

What is it about loudmouthed guys and duels?

It wasn’t so long ago that our very own Gov. Paul LePage talked whimsically about dueling a political opponent and pointing a gun “right between his eyes” as part of an obscenity-laced tirade.

It’s got to be something beyond affinity for musical theater that’s driving this bizarre behavior.

Is this the hyper masculine answer to every problem? A longing for the good ole’ days when men were men – and shot each other rather nonchalantly – and women were women and knew their place?

It’s absurd and it should be treated as such.

Initially playing the straight person to Farenthold’s foil, Collins dismissed the ludicrousness of the whole situation.

“In 20 years in the Senate, I have had a lot of people make suggestions about how to resolve legislative disputes, but until today nobody had ever suggest a duel,” Collins said in a statement.

The following day, Collins was heard on an open microphone talking to Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

During the conversation, the two can be heard talking about President Donald Trump’s lack of understanding of the budget process and the dangerous impact that lack of understanding could have on the budget for the Defense Department.=

The conversation was informal, friendly and the kind that colleagues might have in workplaces all around America. And, in fact, concerns about the upcoming budget fight and the leadership, or lack there of, coming from the administration were on the mark.

Imagine that: A Democrat and a Republican talking reasonably about the budget and expressing a common concern with the impacts on the US Department of Defense! Shocking!

And then the chatter turned to Wiggum – I mean Farenthold.

Collins asked Reed if he’d heard about the challenge to duel.

“Trust me: You know why he challenged you to a duel,” Reed said, “because you could beat the sh*t out of him first.”

The audio is a little hard to hear, but Collins sounds as if she laughs and then she responded: “I don’t mean to be unkind, but he’s so unattractive, it’s unbelievable.”

Generally speaking, I think it’s bad form to call people names, comment on their physical appearance and threaten them with 18th Century violence. Collins apparently agrees.

She later apologized for her remarks and said that she accepted an apology from Farenthold, “neither weapons nor inappropriate words are the right way to resolve legislative disputes,” she said.

Despite their unquestioning defense of Trump and his long list of misdeeds, lies and troubling behavior, some on the right were quick to use the hot mic moment to criticize Collins.

The Twitter trolls were quick on the draw; the talk radio hosts needing every inch of the spittle guard on their mics. They are aghast with a Republican who dares to tell the truth, not their version of the truth.

Here are the facts: President Trump doesn’t understand the budget process. The House and Senate health care bills will strip health coverage away from millions of people, hurt the elderly, people with disabilities and seniors, threaten rural hospitals and shift enormous burdens onto the state. And Farenthold is unattractive, as much for his record and words as for his appearance.

It’s all so absolutely absurd, a distraction from more important matters – including Collins willingness to buck her party to protect Medicaid and health insurance for millions – and testament to the way women are held to a different standard in politics than men.

I chose to see the silver lining: The whole episode also included a Democrat and Republican, speaking frankly and honestly about how to proceed with the federal budget in a way that protects US interests during a time of chaos in Washington.

Maybe there’s hope for the Republic yet.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at