I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but it finally dawned on me during last week’s national meltdown over the Syrian refugee crisis why Gov. Paul LePage isn’t in there elbowing his way toward the Republican nomination for president.

He’s not crazy enough.

Don’t get me wrong. LePage had no trouble exhibiting his utter ignorance of the Obama administration’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrians into this country next year when he told WCSH-TV: “If you remember 9/11, I think some people came through Maine and they did a lot of damage in New York. I think we’ve got to be very diligent, very on top of this issue.”

Not to mention accurate: Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari, the two hijackers who passed through Portland on the eve of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, were not refugees. Like the other 17 terrorists who forever changed history that day, they had gained entry to the United States through various tourist, business and student visas.

Doesn’t matter. LePage, not surprisingly, has joined 27 other governors – all but one Republicans – in vowing that not one man, woman or child from Syria will set foot in their states if they have any say in the matter.

Why? Because if the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, can attack Paris, France, who’s to say they aren’t plotting at this very moment to do the same thing in South Paris, Maine?

Which brings us back to the many and varied shades of crazy that color this political spectacle.

While LePage had no trouble interchanging refugees with foreign students, tourists, business travelers (as well as the 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants he’d also like to see tossed across the nearest border), his comments seemed almost tame in comparison to the gaggle of Republicans running for president.

Donald Trump called for a national registry of all Muslims now in this country.

Ben Carson, searching for just the right metaphor for the Syrians running for their lives, settled on “a rabid dog.”

Jeb Bush, bless him, said he’d open the gate for – and only for – the Christians.

Then there was LePage’s best friend forever, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who told a radio interviewer that he would deny entry even to a 5-year-old Syrian orphan.

We’ve already established these people have no shame. My question is, have they no sanity?

For that, thankfully, we can turn to another Mainer – U.S. Sen. Angus King. He spent much of his week telling the country that its post-Paris fears, however justified, are aimed largely at the wrong target.

“The hardest way to get into the country is as a refugee,” said King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview on Friday. “It takes 18 months to two years, extensive vetting.”

In other words, as easy as it may be to imagine an ISIS terrorist slipping first through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees’ vetting process and then sneaking past the State Department’s own rigorous screening, there are far easier ways to penetrate our borders and inflict the kind of mayhem that played out nine days ago on the streets of Paris.

King finds two particularly worrisome.

The first, he said, are people who are radicalized right here in the United States via ISIS’ robust, Internet-based propaganda campaign.

“The FBI is currently doing ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states – that’s public information – and in fact last summer arrested 60 different people for being involved in various plots,” he said. “And I want to emphasize these aren’t necessarily refugees or even Muslims.”

Then there’s the U.S. visa waiver program – an arrangement whereby visitors from 38 other friendly nations can come here with a passport but no visa whatsoever.

Last year, 20 million such entries into the United States were logged – compared to 2,000 fully vetted Syrian refugees who have been admitted here since 2011.

“It sort of points up that this is a misplaced emphasis,” noted King.

The problem with the visa waiver program, King correctly points out, is that it is the product of a time when a wide-open door with friendly allies made complete sense. Not so anymore.

“The visa waiver program is only as good as the weakest link. There are 38 countries involved and if they aren’t diligent in their policies of admission and their border control and their security situation, then we’re vulnerable,” King said. “That to me is where we really need to look.”

This is the debate we should be having, not whether a 5-year-old who’s already lost everything but his own life is somehow a threat to our national security.

Or whether refugees are like rabid dogs.

Or whether there’s any connection whatsoever between those who blew up the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and those still imperiled by the aftershocks of that awful day.

So is this what it’s come to, fellow Mainers? Must we spend the coming months heaping our fears onto the already overburdened Syrian refugees, most of them women and children?

I say we’re better than that. And our Republican “leaders” notwithstanding, our history as a nation tells us we’re braver than that.

“There’s no 100 percent guarantee. There never can be,” said King. “If you want a 100 percent guarantee, then you’re basically not going to let anyone in your country ever under any circumstances. There is a country like that. It’s called North Korea. And I don’t think that’s a country we’d want to live in.”

Unless you’re truly crazy.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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