Apparently a better relationship between Democrats and Republicans is in the eye of the beholder. One day after his State of the Union speech, where he told Americans that genuine reform can’t happen unless we “end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas,” president Barack Obama had what might be charitably described as a less than cordial encounter with Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer.
“He was a little thin-skinned,” Brewer said during a later interview on local radio station News/Talk 92.3 KTAR. “I was a bit taken aback by his stance and his attitude [on the tarmac],” she added. noting that Obama walked away from her “[as] I was trying to make a point that I thought that my book was right and correct.” The book in question is “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border,” about Brewer’s approach to dealing with Arizona’s illegal alien problem. According to the governor, the president was “a little disturbed” regarding her description of a previous meeting between the two in the Oval Office on June 3rd, 2010.
At a press conference after that meeting, she described their talk as “very cordial, very very cordial.“ Yet as one watches the video of that presser, one gets the impression that Ms. Brewer is carefully measuring her words. Apparently she was. In a review of the book published by the Arizona Republic, Brewer reportedly described the get-together as “one that started with some chitchat,” she writes. “But after a few minutes, the president’s tone got serious–and condescending.” She further noted that Mr. Obama “has repeatedly made fun of those of us who want to see the law enforced, saying we want a ‘moat’ with ‘alligators’ in it around our country. The reason he has resorted to these failed attempts at humor, I think, is that he supports a policy that is fundamentally undemocratic, and he knows it.”
Thus, what should have been a routine exchange of greetings between a visiting president and a state governor got testy. Brewer offered Obama a letter, which she later said was an invitation to sit down with her to discuss Arizona’s economic “comeback” and to join her for a tour of the U.S.-Mexican border. A brief exchange followed with Brewer pointing her finger at the president, and Mr. Obama apparently walking away before the Governor could finish what she was saying. A White House official seemingly confirmed Brewer’s account of the incident. “The governor handed the president a letter and said she was inviting him to meet with her,” the official noted. “The president said he’d be glad to meet with her again, but did note that after their last meeting, a cordial discussion in the Oval Office, the governor inaccurately described the meeting in her book. The president looks forward to continuing taking steps to help Arizona’s economy grow.”
This media-orchestrated kerfuffle obscures the larger political picture, one that was also addressed by the president in the State of the Union speech. “I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration,” said Mr. Obama. “That’s why my Administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”
Maybe we should. But the president knows it’s not going to happen between now and the 2012 election. Furthermore he is well aware that the Supreme Court will rule on Arizona’s immigration bill prior to the election as well. A critical part of that decision centers around the ability of state officials to check the immigration status of anyone they detain who they suspect is here illegally. Whatever the Court decides will have a substantial impact on the election, as well as stricter immigration laws adopted by Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah.
Portions of Arizona’s original statute were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton and subsequently upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. When it goes to the Supreme Court, only eight Justices will be taking it up. Elena Kagan has recused herself because of her former position as the Obama administration’s solicitor general. If the Court ends up split 4-4, the current ruling–a win for the Obama administration–would stand.
Adding to the intrigue is the current disposition of Arizona’s role in the race for the presidency. As of last November, A Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll showed Obama’s approval rating in Arizona at only 41 percent. Furthermore, he currently trails Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a head-to-head match-up by around six points. Yet some Democrats believe the traditionally conservative state can be won if they can energize Hispanic voters who comprise roughly one-third of the state’s electorate. Part of the strategy being employed towards that end is labeling any support for the Arizona statute as racist. And while the president himself doesn’t go that far, he has made it clear that he supports the Justice Department’s efforts to get the law overturned.
As for the current incident itself, media reports indicate that, as always, who was disrespecting whom appears to be driven by ideology as well. In an interview yesterday, Brewer claims she talks a lot with her hands and meant no disrespect when she pointed her finger at the president. “I respect the office of the president,” she said. “I was there to welcome him.” Yet the Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper, contended that Brewer’s finger-wagging “now pretty much defines this state’s relationship with Washington, D.C. to the world.” The two mayors also at the airport to greet the president, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, a Republican, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, wanted nothing to do with the incident. Neither were available for comment. As for those who have a healthy suspicion of the media itself, one is left to wonder whether the photograph itself represents a defined moment of pointing, or a freeze frame of a larger hand gesture that would be far less “newsworthy” (read: “controversy-generating”) if the full context were known.
Right now the incident is getting a lot of play–all of which will be long forgotten when a decision on the Arizona law by the Supreme Court is finally rendered.
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