This morning, my daughter and I waited in line outside of a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting to see if we could get in. The meeting was supposedly a hearing about the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his many crimes and abuses of power, as cited by the U.S. Department of Justice. Arpaio is an elected Republican, still supported by many Republicans in and out of Arizona, in spite of (or perhaps because of) his long list of offenses: racial profiling, lack of investigation into over 400 sex crimes, use of excessive force on detainees, mismanagement of $100 million of taxpayer funds, and filing retaliatory charges against political opponents.
As we were waiting, we had a couple of significant encounters. One was with a Latino man on an electronic bullhorn, regaling the line with an endless litany of incomprehensible complaints that seemed to have to do with illegal immigrants. Neither my daughter nor I could tell which side of the Arpaio issue he was on. The other was with a well-spoken redheaded woman who said she is a Republican and used to be a Tea-Partier until seven months ago—when she realized that the party was going in the wrong direction.
The Latino man walked over to argue with our companion. Someone in the crowd had told him about her and he wanted to inform her, emphatically, that if she doesn’t support Arpaio, she’s not a real Republican. Now we could see that he was wearing a Tea Party shirt. Someone on the edge of the crowd approached and asked him which side of the issue he was on because he couldn’t understand the man’s confused rantings, either.
Our new redheaded friend looked over at us and sadly shook her head. “The Republican Party has been taken over by loonies,” she said. “The biggest complaint I have about Arpaio is his fiscal mismanagement of the sheriff’s office. That’s what the party used to be about—fiscal responsibility. Now it’s all about personality, no matter how that personality behaves.”
Oddly enough, the whole exchange gave me hope. The current crop of Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, and their coverage in the media, has made me wonder whether there is any scrap of sanity left in the Republican Party. The woman I met outside the meeting embodied what mainstream Republicans used to be: sane, sober advocates for limiting the powers of federal government.
I rarely agree with Republican positions—for instance, I consider racial profiling and the neglect of investigating sex crimes as Arpaio’s most egregious sins—but I can respect the fact that we differ. Lately, however, I haven’t seen anything that I can remotely relate to in the party’s most visible members. What I see is a rabid projectile vomiting of unbelievable hate, rage, and disrespect of other human beings—with no clear voice coming from any faction within the party that asks, What the hell is going on here and how do we stop it?
The group that requested the hearing, Citizens for a Better Arizona, eventually walked out of the meeting because the supervisors—four Republicans and one Democrat—refused to let them speak and refused to address their comment cards. When the media also moved outside to interview the president of the citizens’ group, Randy Parraz, the Latino ‘loonie’ turned up a siren on his electronic megaphone and drowned out everyone else’s attempt to speak. Apparently, only he had that right, having spent the previous hour on a rant that gave many of us a headache. Once we moved away from the disruption, we managed to hear that Randy, a Democrat, and a Republican member of his group worked together to decide whether anything could be accomplished within the meeting. They decided together to walk out (along with a significant portion of the audience) when they weren’t being heard.
So there’s the hope—in the Republican woman and in the bipartisan cooperation of Citizens for a Better Arizona. Maybe it’s a slight hope, but looking at the smaller picture, the more local level, perhaps some sanity still exists in the Republican Party. Perhaps a leader will emerge who can say to its members: Snap out of it! Snap out of this venomous, irrational trance that currently has national Republican figures and their followers in its self-destructive grip. Perhaps some leader can remind the membership that they once held more enduring values, and then take cooperative action for the well-being of the country—instead of promoting a few wealthy, hate-spewing prima donnas. I think the GOP has a long climb back to respectability and responsibility but, seriously folks, is the effort too much to ask?