Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., used to be a federal judge. Then he got impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. Now he’s a congressman from Florida. People have a right to vote for whomever they want, even one of the six federal judges in America ever to be removed by Congress.

Susan Estrich

Susan Estrich

But with friends like Hastings making the case for him, Sen. Barack Obama doesn’t need enemies.

Participating in a panel discussion in Washington last week sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council (I don’t even want to ask why they invited him — maybe everybody else was busy trying to solve the economic crisis), the distinguished gentleman from Florida (that’s what all congressmen call each other, making it one of the great oxymorons of all time) had this to say:

“If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention. Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through.”

I’m thinking it through. What I’m thinking is that Hastings is an idiot. Or worse.

Is he really equating Jews with moose?

Is he suggesting that Gov. Sarah Palin is going to shoot us because she shoots them?

Is he trying to help the Democratic presidential nominee with Jews or hurt him?

I don’t tote around guns, for hunting or anything else. I don’t strip moose. Truth be told, I’m a pro-gun-control animal lover. But I’m a whole lot more interested in a candidate’s position on issues than their affection for moose.

Last time I checked, half the Democratic candidates in the past few decades have gone out of their way to have their photos snapped in camouflage gear getting ready to shoot at animals, and the ones who didn’t fared even less well than the ones who did. Not that I’m suggesting that shooting moose is a requirement for running for president. Quite the contrary. But it’s also not, as far as I can tell, a disqualification. Last time I checked, even Obama himself was in favor of letting hunters hunt.

Asked to explain his boss’ idiocy, Hastings spokesman David Goldenberg (I wonder why they picked a guy named Goldenberg to explain this one … pure coincidence, no doubt) told ABC News that his boss was just trying to argue that Palin is an “extremely conservative woman who is out of touch with mainstream America.”

Palin may well be an “extremely conservative woman who is out of touch with mainstream America.” Having researched her views on a range of issues having nothing to do with hunting and moose, I’m actually inclined to think so. But liking to hunt and stripping moose isn’t what makes her out of touch — in truth, not liking to hunt and not wanting to see moose stripped (I’m not even sure what that means, by the way) probably makes me a whole lot more out of touch than she is.

If you have managed to forget, and who wouldn’t want to, Hastings was indicted for accepting a bribe of $150,000 in a criminal case, in return for agreeing to impose a lenient sentence and order the assets of two defendants charged with 21 counts of racketeering to be returned to them. He was acquitted by a jury, but only after his alleged co-conspirator, lawyer William Borders, refused to testify at the trial and was sent to jail for that refusal.

It was the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that voted 413-3 to impeach him, with such liberal stalwarts as Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, John Conyers and Charles Rangel among those siding against Hastings. He was convicted by the Senate a year later, by a 69-26 vote, and removed from office.

Three years later, he was elected to the House, and after 15 years as a distinguished gentleman, he is now a senior Democratic whip, a member of the House Rules Committee and the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission). Ah, redemption.

To answer Rep. Hastings, I don’t have a problem with Barack Obama. It’s “friends” like Alcee Hastings whom I worry about.

Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.