It was probably inevitable given our overheated politics. The Pima County, Arizona sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, has become the target – I use that term advisedly – of a recall effort.
The Arizona Daily Star’s talented political cartoonist, David Fitzsimmons, sums up this news item up nicely when he has a cartoon recall supporter say, “It’s really nice to see the community pulling together at a time like this.”
A Tucson Tea Party group claims the sheriff’s post-Gabrielle Giffords shooting comments “were irresponsible and had no basis in any fact. It’s not what law enforcement officers should do when inserting themselves into politics.” No mention of the fact that the sheriff has been re-elected repeatedly since 1980 as a Democrat. By any fair definition, this guy is into politics, but we digress.
Other supporters of the Dump Dupnik effort have charged with sheriff with being a “leftist,” that he intended to protect the “shooter” or that he “hasn’t enforced the law.” Just the kind of broad, sweeping, factless nonsense that so often passes for political debate in America these days.
There is even an Idaho angle to the story. According to the Star, former Idaho Congressman Bill Sali is advising the recall proponents, who are – you might wonder why – being lead by a Salt Lake City talk radio host.
For his part the sheriff is hardly backing down from his basic contention that the vitriol of current political discourse has consequences.
“I’m sure that this demented person (suspect Jared Lee Loughner) didn’t do what he did because of Rush Limbaugh, specifically, or Sarah Palin or … Glenn Beck. But it’s a conglomeration. When people hear this vitriol every day, it has some consequences and I think that’s how the tea party got so darned angry so fast.”
What he does know, the sheriff told the Star, “is that Loughner was angry at government and ‘I think in his demented mind, he saw her (Giffords) as representing government.'”
The interview with the sheriff, printed on February 6, has of this morning drawn 275 on line comments from Arizona Daily Star readers. You can imagine the tone of most of them and a number were apparently so “uncivil” as to be removed by the newspaper.
Two things stand out here.
First, recalls aren’t about removing people from office simply because you disagree with them or with something they’ve said. Recalls should be reserved for malfeasance and, as the Constitution says about misbehaving public officials, “high crimes and misdemeanors.” You find disagreement with a politician, run or vote against them. Sheriff Dupnik has to face the votes again in 2012. He got just over 64% last time and he says he’ll probably run again. Have at it. Beat him at the polls, if you can.
Second, the intensity surrounding the Arizona sheriff just proves the point that we struggle right now to find a way to disagree with each other while not being totally disagreeable. We simply must get better at this and everyone has a role and a stake. The Christian Science Monitor, in noting Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup’s civility initiative with other U.S. Mayors, printed a short piece called “four ways to kick the polarized partisan habit.” It’s worth a read and a visit to the Public Conversations Project website is worthwhile, as well. I found one of the four rules particularly appropriate: “Fight for Technicolor – Don’t reduce everyone and everything to black and white. Stand up for the multicolored reality of yourself and others.”
Speaking of Technicolor, the Slate website produced a profile of the controversial sheriff early in January. It’s worth reading. Here’s a key sentence: “a look through Dupnik’s past reveals a much more complex figure than his current portrayal as a liberal Democratic crusader.” Really.
One thing our media often does, and too many public officials perpetuate, is to reduce every issue and every personality to a “black and white, yes and no” equation. In the real world, things can’t be done so simply or so surely.
The real world – and real people – operate in Technicolor. Black and white, except for the occasional Humphrey Bogart movie, really should be obsolete.