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Is that Ann Coulter or Alice Stewart? 

It's important that you know that I hardly ever — all but never, in fact — watch Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Life is too short. Hair must be washed. Fingernails must be clipped. 

But there happened to be wild political news last Wednesday. 

President Obama released his birth certificate. Donald Trump took credit for this extraction and then changed course to suggest that maybe Obama, even if a real American, didn't deserve by grades and scores to get into Columbia and then Harvard. 

This was racist, of course. First this hideous being, this thing called Trump, questioned the natural-born Americanness of a president who was of a different skin color and of an uncommon, vowel-ending surname. Then, foiled, Trump essentially was given to wonder publicly how a man of that complexion could get into an elite school.

So I wound up that evening surfing onto MSNBC, where Lawrence O'Donnell was going off deliciously on Trump for this offensiveness and racism.

O'Donnell was lambasting his own network for keeping around such a clown as Trump on a tragically popular television program and for apologizing for him merely by having an unidentified executive remark as follows to The New York Times: "That's just Donald being Donald."

I became curious as to how Fox might be handling this news about its presidential frontrunner, this Trump, which is to say I was wondering how Fox would spin this uncomfortable development in service to its ongoing missions of conservative apologia and Obama hatred.

So that is how I came to click over to see that Hannity was lamenting this diversion into race politics that took vital attention away from how we need to cut taxes and remake Medicare. 

Hannity was moderating a three-member panel's full agreement with him, anchored in the middle by a thin blonde whom I took to be Ann Coulter.

When this thin woman of long blonde hair commenced talking, spouting angry right-wing talking points angrily, I continued to believe I was beholding Coulter.

But then the camera offered a close-up and an identifying line across the bottom of the screen. This was not Ann Coulter. This was the press spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state, the famously blundering Mark Martin. 

This was Alice Stewart, former press aide to Mike Huckabee and, before that, a Little Rock television news personality. She was identified as a "Republican strategist."

She told Hannity that Obama was playing the race card. She said it wouldn't work because the nation, in 2012, would elect an economic conservative as president.

I was beset by mixed emotions. Half of me was laughing at the ludicrous notion that Obama was the one playing the race card. The other half was curious as to what the Arkansas secretary of state's spokesman was doing on Hannity ridiculing the president and getting identified not as what she was, but as some supposed Republican strategist.

So, two days later, I called her at the secretary of state's office and asked. She was terse, but sufficiently responsive.

She explained that she was known to Fox from her work as a spokesman for Huckabee's presidential campaign. She got invited to come to New York and appear. She took a day's leave from Martin's office and made the trip, exercising her right as a free-speaking citizen. She got Martin's permission, she said. 

She said she might do the same thing again if asked and if Martin could spare her services for the day. 

She got identified as a "Republican strategist" mainly for the broad convenience of the phrase and not because she maintains any ongoing business concern as a Republican strategist, she said.

Was her appearance inappropriate? It's a tough call, one I'll fudge by saying I am less certain of its inappropriateness than of its poor judgment. 

The secretary of state's main spokesman — his deputy secretary of state for public affairs — is entitled, of course, to express her personal political views on her own time and if invited to do so by a news network. 

But the secretary of state has certain election services duties. Stewart's Coulter imitation on national Republican television showed an insufficiency of respect for the professional appearances of fairness and objectivity in her boss's performance of his obligations to voters and taxpayers.

Florida showed us in 2000 the bad things that can happen when your secretary of state is a hyperactive partisan.

The only way Stewart could serve these two masters seamlessly would be if they were approximately the same. Let us hope, nagging and growing appearances to the contrary, that our secretary of state is not the same as a Fox blowhard.

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