INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPTCY…. Why is it so painfully difficult to take the Republican Party seriously in the 21st century? Because they haven’t quite figured out that credibility comes with a degree of political maturity. Take Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama, for example. (via Ben Smith)

Another local resident [in Cullman County, Alabama] asked Shelby [yesterday] if there was any truth to a rumor that appeared during the presidential campaign concerning Obama’s U.S. citizenship, or lack thereof.

“Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate,” Shelby said. “You have to be born in America to be president.”

According to the Associated Press, state officials in Hawaii checked health department records during the campaign and determined there was no doubt Obama was born in Hawaii.

The nonpartisan Web site examined the original document and said it does have a raised seal and the usual evidence of a genuine document. In addition, reproduced an announcement of Obama’s birth, including his parents’ address in Honolulu, that was published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Aug. 13, 1961.

This kind of stupidity took a right turn at annoying quite a while ago, and now rests comfortably in the realm of madness. When Alan Keyes launches into a ridiculous tirade about the president’s birth certificate, it’s not especially surprising — Keyes, based on all available evidence, is apparently not well. Anyone looking for lucidity from the poor man is bound to be disappointed.

It’s far more annoying to have elected Republican officials in Tennessee signing on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit “aimed at forcing” the President to “prove he is a United States citizen.”

But the Shelby example is a different magnitude of idiocy. Shelby isn’t just some random yahoo with a right-wing radio talk-show; he’s a four-term United States senator. He’s the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, for crying out loud. It’s incumbent on him to be somewhat coherent and conduct himself with at least a little sanity.

In the broader context, the Republican Party is still unsure how to get back on the road to electoral success after years of failure and defeat. While the party mulls its options, we have a leading House Republican comparing the GOP to the Taliban; a prominent Senate Republican wanting to position the party as “freedom fighters” taking on the “slide toward socialism”; and a leading Senate Republican publicly questioning the President of the United States’ birth certificate.

What an embarrassment.

It seems a little early in Obama’s presidency to see Republicans become this deranged. I shudder to think how unhinged they’ll be in, say, a year.

Update: Shelby’s office says the local news account isn’t a full reflection of the senator’s comments, and that the senator “doesn’t have any doubt” about Obama’s citizenship and eligibility.

Second Update: While Shelby claims the local paper misconstrued his comments, the paper stands by its story. There are rumors that a video might be available. I’ll keep you posted.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.