Posted by Brad @ 11:45 am on April 25th 2011

Joe Arpaio is a Symtom of the Problem, Not the Problem

More outrageous behavior from a powerful sheriff who may well wind up a Senator. It’s almost pointless by now to point out what a disgrace he is, because the same behavior that gets such a visceral negative reaction from me is precisely the core of his appeal. And I think there are two root causes for this. The first is, politically, I think there is a substantial swath of the (mostly right-leaning) electorate who isn’t even ideologically driven. They just want to find the most dickish political figure possible. Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump – if there’s one lesson you can start gleaning from the conservative electorate in this country, it’s that ideas don’t matter so much as attitude. If you drive liberals crazy, you stand a good chance of becoming a conservative celebrity, almost regardless of what you actually believe or propose.

The second is of course that it doesn’t offend a certain portion of the public when you dehumanize criminals. It is, in fact, a huge plus. We’re now a country where about half of the population believes not only that torture isn’t bad, but that there ought to be more of it. Think about that for a second. Sometimes (most times) I get despondent that we’ve already passed the point of no return on becoming something akin to a police state – where you are guilty until proven innocent, where once dropped down the incarceration hole the odds are stacked against you to an almost Kafka-esque degree, where the societal answer to a huge swath of social problems is not to address causes, but to just try to rip entire swaths of people out of the social fabric entirely (Mexicans, muslims, sex offenders, violently mentally ill, hardcore drug addicts, etc.). Where the most important fact about a suspect is not necessarily whether they are guilty or not in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but whether they are undesirable or not, and to what degree.

When I would get in arguments ten years ago about my fear for a police state, I often felt like I wasn’t registering with the person to whom I was speaking because, in their mind, a police state is some nefarious central authority swooping in and subjugating an entire population overnight and against their will. But that’s not what I fear. What I fear is that no subjugation is necessary. That we slide to a point where we not only ALLOW the total dehumanization of entire segments of the population – we demand it. Where the rule of law is seen not only as an inconvenience, but as itself a violation of justice. Where, indeed, Joe Arpaio isn’t seen as a problem, or a betrayal, but rather a solution, and representative of a promise kept. Here’s a guy who chains pregnant ladies in labor to beds, uses tanks to bust people for possession, and runs HotorNot contests for his mentally ill prisoners. And not only is a plurality of the voting public out there not calling for his immediate dismissal – they’re calling for him to take his ideas and personality national.

I think we probably are past the point of no return on this, to be honest. I think the civil libertarian concepts that have guided this country since its inception exist now in name only – that the hull integrity has been irreparably breached and we’re now in a state of decompression. I think we’ve reached critical mass, and it’s all downhill from here.

Or, maybe it’s just Monday.


  1. It’s not just Monday, it’s the Monday that Haley Barbour has declared he’s not running for President. It really is all downhill from here!

    But seriously.

    Arpaio as a symptom is largely on the market. Our politics is so loaded up with cultural cues and moral overtones it’s hard to have a rational discussion about almost anything.

    The way I see it, one of the primary concepts that guided this country was a constitutionally limited government, respect for rule of law, and separation of powers. I’m not saying we’re in a tyranny now, but I think we’ve found over the last 200 years or so that the concepts put forth by Madison and others don’t work that well, empirically.

    And if you could speak to Madison, up date him on what’s happened over the last 200 years, and ask him for advice I don’t think he’d demand that you just stick to his Constitution. He’d be open to updating government to improve how its run.

    Protecting civil liberties by depending on the rule of law doesn’t seem to work when you have public opinion at least divided on the subject. I think we’re going to have to accept that in 21st century America public opinion and the whims of the masses matters a lot more in protecting liberties. It’s ironic that we set up a system of government with separation of powers and checks and balances because we were afraid that the majority would violate the rights of the minority. Now it seems like the best strategy is to try to engage and change the mind of the majority.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/25/2011 @ 3:39 pm

  2. And if you could speak to Madison, up date him on whats happened over the last 200 years, and ask him for advice I dont think hed demand that you just stick to his Constitution. Hed be open to updating government to improve how its run.

    Or he’d be advocating for a second American revolution.

    Seriously, I think that’s at least as likely.

    Comment by Brad — 4/25/2011 @ 3:51 pm

  3. But a revolution to what ends? I think he’s just as likely to say that our 200 year experiment shows that our current system isn’t working so we need to fundamentally change government from the bottom up. I don’t think he’d argue we just need to go back to what he originally proposed 200 years ago. Key difference.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/25/2011 @ 4:14 pm

  4. I think we can both agree, at least, that he’d be awfully despondent.

    And, I don’t think he would fall back on the “convince the masses” thing. Because, of course, masses can be convinced either way, either for liberty or against them. I dunno. Maybe there’s just too much inherent friction between “consent of the governed” and “rights of the minority”.

    Comment by Brad — 4/25/2011 @ 4:21 pm

  5. Masses can be convinced either for liberty or against liberty. But if they have incentives to be against liberty, for a host of different reasons, it’s really hard to design a government that will block their anti-liberty desires from being put into place. Aside from an interest in freedom as exit and the idea of free cities/competitive government, it’s really hard for me to come up with any solution that doesn’t start with people just holding different views.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/26/2011 @ 11:02 am

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