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Published: Thursday, 6/24/2010

Hard of hearing

Maybe it's time for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta to have his hearing checked. Otherwise, how do you explain his hearing loss during a meeting with constituents this week?

Mr. Latta was in Fremont gathering ideas for the House GOP caucus. At one point during the two-hour session, an audience member asked the Bowling Green Republican whether President Obama is "American or is he African." Mr. Latta, a Bowling Green State University graduate with a law degree from the University of Toledo, appeared to slip the question but later explained he simply had misunderstood the straightforward query.

Later, a woman from Tiffin suggested Democratic leaders in Washington should be impeached, and a man, Rob Voska of Green Springs, Ohio, added loudly that they should be "shot in the head." Mr. Latta, who told attendees that "Washington better start listening to the people back home," apparently didn't follow his own advice, ignoring the woman and claiming he didn't hear the man.

Following the event, Mr. Latta told Blade politics writer Tom Troy that since the courts said Mr. Obama was qualified to be president and Hawaii officials said he was born there, he wouldn't say differently. That's not quite the same thing as saying that questions about the President's citizenship are silly and the so-called "birthers" are dead wrong.

Mr. Latta waited until the day after his town hall meeting to issue a statement saying how much he abhorred Mr. Voska's violent suggestion. But after-the-fact explanations don't have the same effect as immediately standing up before a crowd of supporters to reprimand someone for advocating violence against members of the opposite political party.

Mr. Voska has since backed off, regretting his comment and explaining that it was directed at "all of them," presumably Democrats, and not specifically at the President. That hardly matters. Mr. Latta's office is turning over what it knows to the Secret Service, which undoubtedly will want to talk to Mr. Voska about his choice of words.

Some politicians allow comments such as these to go unchallenged because they're afraid of alienating voters they count on to keep them in office. Others leave outrageous claims uncorrected because doing so fans the flames of irrational anger while allowing the politician to deny responsibility. They know that lies told often enough take on a life of their own.

Of course, none of that was the case with Mr. Latta. He would have jumped to the defense of Democrats if he had heard Mr. Voska's loud threat. But he didn't hear it, apparently because he was listening to audience comments and writing them on a white board.

Perhaps the 54-year-old congressman has reached that age when many people begin having trouble with their hearing. Or maybe, as often happens among older people, his hearing has become more selective.

In either case, his constituents would be wise to speak up if they hope to be heard.



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