You know, I promised myself I wasn’t going to write about this. Promised. The fact is I heard about it yesterday, so we’re talking, what? 24 hours? But this is the Foreign Policy Association global blog site, right? And despite my focus on crime and corruption, I like to think I bring a certain (educated) perspective to events too often triggered by what even I, an east coast elitist, can only describe as bad, bad craziness. Boundaries–or their absence–can be important cultural markers, and I knew–I know–even as I write, that this is a name guaranteed to set a lot of very straight, very white teeth on edge: Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa Country, Arizona.
Still there? Let me tell you something. I have very mixed feelings about this guy. Yes, I know …the man comes trailing clouds of idiosyncrasy, and wingnuts on both sides regularly reach for the name of ‘ America’s toughest sheriff’ when every other synonym for whatever word in the dictionary should come after ‘unbridled lunacy’ eludes them.
It’s the man’s certainty, his black & white morality, his no-quarter-given attitude, and his fools-(read rest of world) be-damned attitude that tends to put some people off. People who believe that knowledge (and most everything else) is unreliable. That human behavior is always grey. And that everyone’s opinion is equally sound.
But then there’s this–a true story, no less.
My son, when it came time for him to leave his liberal private high school on the East Coast and travel, I thought, to an equally celebrated college somewhere not too far from New York City or DC, announced that like Kerouac, his plan was to leave not only his privileged stomping grounds, but also the fashionable intellectual environment in which he’d grown and flourished for 18 long and tedious years.
He was going to college, it seemed, in Arizona–to a state school filled with the unspoiled offspring of people ‘who really worked for a living.’ Unlike his mother, who wrote–not to be mistaken, my friends, for ‘manual labor.’
At first, the reports were of a western paradise, stories of bikini-clad coeds skating across a palm-strewn campus, eternal sunshine, relaxed, friendly people (‘not like the workaholics you know, Mom), and roommates with ‘regular names’–none ending in the ubiquitous ‘y’ (Dicky, Higgee, Hockee, Petey) sound that distinguishes the prep school A-list. The name of my son’s first roommate was ‘Couch,’ clearly meant, like the names of Native Americans, to describe that state-of-being which best distinguished him from the rest of the tribe. Hey, I was onboard. There were, I believed, valuable lessons everywhere.
And they were not long in coming. I remember the night I got the call from the ER in Tempe–he’d gone with a friend into ‘an Indian bar’–”You know, American Indians, the kind who carry knives…” He had imbibed his fair share of the local firewater, and gotten into a fight (his first, and I believe, his last) with a young, off-duty US Marine.
He was battered and bruised but somehow returned, along with his buddy, to campus. He was also in possession of a name that came to mean a great deal to him and his friends during the next few years–Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a guy, my son told me ‘who DID NOT FOOL AROUND.’ A guy who, after he’d filled the cells in his jail, or maybe just to save money on inmate housing, sent the criminal overflow outside to live in a fenced area known as ‘TENT CITY.’
Life in Tent City lacked the amenities offered by institutions in neighboring counties, and for Arpaio, that was the point. “Next time they want to break the law,” he was heard to say, “they’ll do it in Pima County.”
You could end up in Tent City for anything, no matter how small a violation of the law it might be. Arpaio took the offender right past denial and bargaining (forget about rage) and straight into acceptance.
There were no second chances, no referrals to a counselor, no rehab, no sad stories, no 12 steps that might lead you out of the fenced compound before you did your time. And if you ended up in Tent City, my son added (was it wonderment I heard?), there were no separate areas designed to house college kids from back East, no first-timers space–you were in there with real criminals.
Thus it was that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and I become co-parents of a sort, I, via frequent telephone calls, citing the letter and the spirit of the laws that underpin western civilization, and Sheriff Joe providing daily visible reminders of what happened in Maricopa Country when those laws were broken.
It was a good relationship, worth every penny of that out-of-state tuition.
Joe Arpaio provided my son and many of his friends with a lesson that has pretty much stuck: that at some point, life is going to teach you that the consequences of your actions are non-negotiable. That laws, great or small, are not meant to be broken. Neither are they meant to be dismissed as outworn, archaic, irrelevant, or socially backward. That if you break the law, you go to court, and then, very possibly, to jail.
My son never saw Tent City, but one of his roommates did (not Couch)–the cops caught the young man driving without his license or registration. And the stories this kid brought back to the house he shared with my son and a few other friends are still traveling the alumni circuit today.
So I, at least, owe Joe Arpaio my thanks, as do perhaps a number of parents whose kids ended up learning about the connections between one’s actions and the cost incurred by those choices from the Sheriff of Maricopa County.
Arpaio and Obama’s Forged Birth Certificate
Today Joe Arpaio is in the news again, not for introducing a college boy to the realities of law and order in America, but for suggesting that the President of the United States may have skated around the law that requires a presidential candidate to have been born in the United States of America. Arpaio says he has proof, supported by 2200 hours of investigation, that Obama’s birth certificate was forged.
Now, here’s the thing (and this article, read it, makes the same point): it may sound like a small transgression, an archiac requirement, an expectation (similar to the ones we used to have about senior government officials not exposing their privates via iPhone transmissions or committing adultery in the White House pantry) that progressive, secular, and highly educated voters no longer think is important.
But there’s still a school of thought (and if you went, as I did, to a Catholic university, you may recognize the logic) that suggests an individual who deceives in a small matter will most likely be equally or more ready to deceive in larger matters. Think about it.
For the chatterers and flatterers,the professional political classes, the hardboiled campaigners, and the easy-going, Ivy-professionals who claim that smart, grown-up people understand that some laws don’t really count (Arpaio may be reading the law correctly, but he’s missing the subtext), the Arizona sheriff’s challenge may appear to be nothing more than an unhinged, personal attack against an African-American President for whom Arpaio has little liking or respect.
And that could be the case–but let’s find out.
The point that Jeffrey T. Kuhner makes in The Washington Times is an important one: no one else in the MSM has even bothered to respond to Arpaio’s challenge.
No one has bothered to look at the evidence, even in an attempt to refute it.
Remember this: Arpaio is a seasoned law enforcement officer, a former DEA agent posted in Mexico City, and a duly elected sheriff, capable, by the way, of convening a grand jury in Maricopa Country, if he wished, to investigate the ATF debacle tagged Fast and Furious. Arpaio is claiming, based upon an extensive official investigation, that the President of the United States has broken the law, and he is calling on Congress to investigate.
If Congress can make time to listen to George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt, surely the House Oversight Committee can pencil Arpaio in for an hour or two.
As unseemly or as outlandish as Arpaio’s claim may sound to the political establishment and the mainstream media, the fact is that a law enforcement official with the authority and the creds to do so has charged a US citizen with a violation of US law, forgery and fraud, and unless that man’s authority and the law can be diminished in any actual sense by a chronic lack of attention on the part of the public, the press, and the government, it looks like its time for the press and the government to wake up and start doing their jobs.
Even Pravda, the former official news outlet of the Communist Party, is covering Arpaio’s allegations–as is the international press. Not so the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN. or MSNBC.
Jeffrey Kuhner is right:
The media must follow up on the story. If it is false, then Mr. Arpaio will be rightly humiliated and publicly discredited. But if — and I stress if — it is true, then the press will have unearthed a scandal…either way, it’s time the media did their job…
If the press fails to report, investigate and push Congress to look at Arpaio’s evidence, then the story, when it breaks, may not be about a false birth certificate, but about a phoney press, outlets that have traded the burden imposed by the First Amendment for the risks and rewards of government PR.