Stella Tremblay, the New Hampshire state legislator who sparked outrage when she claimed the Boston Marathon bombings were actually perpetrated by the federal government, belongs to a long and embarrassing tradition. “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1964, describing the “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that has always lurked on the fringes of both left and right.
When Hofstadter wrote those words, he had the John Birch Society in mind. The group’s modern-day descendants have migrated to the Web, finding a home on sites like Infowars — or, in Tremblay’s case, with the talk radio host Glenn Beck.
After Tremblay’s comments, the New Hampshire GOP strongly disavowed her, and a local newspaper called for her resignation. However, Tremblay has refused to quit, or even apologize. Tremblay has insisted she has the right to say whatever she wants — which is true, of course, and also completely beside the point. Some statements just aren’t appropriate for public servants.
The paranoid fringe, Hofstadter observed, may view itself as a lonely “avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy.” But working politicians, he argued, have a duty to keep a toehold in reality. That’s something Tremblay apparently refuses to do. She can keep peddling her idiotic theories if she wants — but shouldn’t do so from elected office.