Making outrageous comments from the well of the U.S. House of Representative is Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s trademark. His one-minute diatribes against almost everything, from ladies underwear, to the mating habits of elephants, to the criminality of federal prosecutors, have contributed little to the political discourse of this nation, but they have made him a favorite of the national press. Need a soundbite? Look for Jim Traficant.
But even hard-nosed reporters must have been taken aback by Traficant's statements Wednesday -- a day after thousands of Americans died at the hands of terrorists. The comments weren't just outrageous, they were idiotic. The congressman crossed the line.
His attempt to turn the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington into a critique of American foreign policy in the Middle East showed a disregard for the dead, the families who are in mourning and the grief of this nation.
Here's what Traficant said, in part: "The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, it is easy to attack the United States of America. Our borders are so wide open, terrorists could cross them with a nuclear warhead, and it may be unpopular to say, but I believe America's foreign policy in the Mideast is so one-sided that we endanger now American citizens. We must be fair in our policies.
"I condemn these tragic acts. The Congress must now look in the mirror and do what is right and to be fair. My heart goes out to all of the victims and families of victims of this tragic war against America."
New targets: Traficant was back on the House floor Thursday, and this time he set his sights on the FBI and the CIA. "The truth is we have an intelligence network that is so dumb they could throw themselves at the ground and miss. Congress keeps throwing money down a black hole.
"I yield back the fact that this is another tragedy that could have been prevented, that everybody knew was coming, and it will not be the last."
Whether the FBI and the CIA dropped the ball is not the issue today. Neither is this country's strong support for Israel, which we endorse.
What we find unacceptable is Traficant's refusal to set aside his pet peeves for just one day and join other members of Congress and President Bush in offering words of sympathy, solace and encouragement to a nation shaken to its core.
We would urge the congressman to get a copy of the speech made by Ohio Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican, and learn from it. Here's a little of what the former governor had to say on Wednesday: "As Father Eugene Hemrick of St. Joseph's Church said this morning at mass, our lives will never be the same.
"As one who has lost a child, I know this is especially true for the families of those who were victims of this act of war and of those who laid down their lives to save them. My thoughts and prayers are with them."