Sometimes Rep. Robert Dornan's bristling red beard makes him look like his face is on fire.
This is especially true when he's standing in the well of the House of Representatives, trying to aim a rhetorical flamethrower at his nemesis, Bill Clinton.
These days, that's practically always.
"When I think of him becoming president of the United States, I feel like Patrick Henry," Dornan said one night recently, as he prepared to go to the House floor to press yet another attack. "I want to yell out, "God forbid it!' "
Typically, he was yelling at the time.
Since late July, when the California Republican launched a series of scorching tirades against the Democratic presidential nominee _ "arrogant fraud" and "draft-dodging adulterer" were among his kinder and gentler epithets _ Dornan has established himself as by far the most vituperative of Clinton's detractors in Congress.
On several nights in the last weeks of the session that just ended, he kept the House in session after hours to deliver long orations _ known as "special orders" _ in which he has ranted in vintage Dornan style about the Arkansas governor's morals, veracity, courage, patriotism and even his academic performance while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in the late 1960s.
"The more I've studied Clinton _ and I've really hunkered down and studied him for the last two months," Dornan said, patting a pile of clippings and papers spread out on a table in the Capitol, "the more I've come to disrespect everything he stands for on the character issue." He added that Clinton has a "50-50" chance of becoming president _ "which nauseates me."
Lately Dornan has been trying to make hay out of Clinton's trip to Moscow in early 1970 _ he went as a tourist, the Clinton campaign says _ and claimed in an interview that Clinton traveled there as a guest of the KGB, which ferried him about in a limousine, in order to inspire him to organize demonstrations against the Vietnam war.
"And he was worked, he was massaged there by the KGB," Dornan said. "I have to give him the benefit of the doubt _ that he didn't have any idea of that _ because he was all idealistic-thinking. He was a "peace worker.' . . . He's there licking their boots, while KGB agents pretending to be professors and students are telling him, "You're great, Bill Clinton.' "
Dornan conceded that he was merely speculating, having gathered no evidence to support the foregoing account.
"I have a right to speculate until he sets the record straight," Dornan has said.
Asked if it was responsible to just make things up, the congressman nodded vigorously.
"When you feel in your gut that the scenario is true _ yes," he said. "Yes!"
Thus has he sorely tested the patience of some of his colleagues.
"His rhetorical diarrhea seems to come right out of the Mad Hatter's tea party," said Rep. Ben Jones, D-Ga. "I think he needs some lithium or Valium to calm down."
Dornan, a 59-year-old former fighter pilot in the peacetime Air Force _ dubbed "B-1 Bob" for relentlessly championing the B-1 bomber _ has pushed the edge of the envelope on the House's cherished traditions of comity and collegiality. Given that Dornan achieved his 15 minutes of fame seven years ago by grabbing Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., by the lapels during a dust-up on the floor, this should come as no surprise.
_ Information from the San Francisco Chronicle was used in this report.