The New York Times on Sunday noted that Joe Arpaio's Arizona didn't become that way without some who fought back in public. It singled out Latino organizer Salvador Reza; Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox; community organizer Lydia Guzman; videographer Dennis Gilman; state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema; ACLU Director Dan Pochoda; Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and New Times reporter Stephen Lemons among others. If Arpaio finally goes down in the Department of Justice civil-rights lawsuit, they can hold their heads high.
Can you imagine what Attorney General Robert Kennedy would have done to Arpaio had he gone after his brother the president with a bogus quest over his birth certificate? Bobby wasn't called mean and ruthless for nothing. Or what LBJ or Nixon would have done? Arpaio would have been given the biggest IRS proctology exam in the history of the world, seen all his federal aid cut off, and been relentlessly hounded by federal prosecutors and FBI agents. President Obama, cool and contemplative, has a corporate lawyer as his Attorney General. So my hopes are muted.
The Resistence desperately needs heroes. Unfortunately, those listed by the Times either had no power or, in the case of Gordon, were severely constrained by both events and his own second-term swoon. The reality is that good intentions divorced from power get us nowhere. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived his convictions against the Nazis, but the only reason we are able to celebrate his martyrdom today is the brute power used by the Allies to defeat them. When Lyndon Johnson suddenly became president, he was urged to back off on civil rights, so as not to use his political capital on a seeming lost cause. This master of the use of power, in Robert Caro's telling, replied, "Well, what the hell's the presidency for?" And a hero, with titanic, heroic flaws, emerged.
Arizona lacks such an individual. Janet Napolitano sought Arpaio's blessing for her successful gubernatorial bid. Once in office, she was careful not to cross him — and to get out of Dodge before sides had to be chosen over the persecution of illegal immigrants. (And some cynics, lacking sensitivity, couldn't privately help noticing how many Italian-Americans had been running the place the past few decades: DeConcini, Colangelo, Arpaio, Napolitano...; I do not agree with the innuendo, but it's a very real conversation among some who know where bodies are buried).
Eugene C. Pulliam had great power. He would have unleashed an old-fashioned newspaper crusade against Arpaio, something today's chain-owned Arizona Republic has been afraid to do. Evan Mecham was removed from the governor's office in 1988 thanks to a business community that no longer exists — big headquartered companies, some developers, local business leaders who cared about the community, along with the old political elite and the Republic. Compared with Arpaio, Mecham was a schoolboy. But he had become an embarrassment to the state and they acted. And they had clout.
Old Arizona saw heroes in abundance: Cochise, Geronimo, Father Kino, Gen. George Crook, along with the Apache scout Elsatsoosu, Frank Luke Jr., Silvestre Herrera and Ira Hayes, this latter group all winners of the Medal of Honor. It was the birthplace of Cesar Chavez. Although without traditional power, one can imagine a battle between Chavez and Arpaio. The Salt River Valley bloomed thanks to heroic acts, and the farmers, including my great-grandparents, who pledged their land as collateral to build Theodore Roosevelt Dam under the Newlands Act. In some cases, of course, heroism is in the eye of the beholder. More on that later.
Arizona still cherishes Barry Goldwater as an unalloyed hero. It was not always so. Pulliam didn't endorse him for president in 1964, and I was one of only two students at Kenilworth School, his alma mater, who openly supported him. In reality, Goldwater was an archetype Arizona flawed hero. He opposed civil rights, a position he later regretted but by then it didn't matter. JFK was actually concerned about a very tight presidential race against Goldwater because the South was solidly behind him because of his position on civil rights. Still, the man in full represented much of the best of us, individualism but also concern for the commons (as a city councilman and even later, he never met a bond issue he opposed). As the GOP grew more extreme, Goldwater became a pariah ("I will be remembered as a liberal," he said). Barry's race problem was not uncommon. Carl Hayden, the father of the Central Arizona Project, was a reliable ally of the Southern segregationists. Ernest McFarland, father of the G.I. Bill and Senate majority leader, may come the closest to a genuine Western white hat. Arpaio would have wilted under any of these men.
Today much of Arizona admires and cherishes Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman named to the Supreme Court. The retired Justice recently lamented the loss of civility in the public square. I have yet to see her use her position as elder stateswoman to directly confront the brutish behavior and racism of Arpaio. Centrist and liberal Arizona forgets that O'Connor usually voted with the conservatives on the court. Worse, and this will taint her once the hagiography wears off with the years, she voted with the majority in Bush v. Gore, likely to be seen by future historians as a critical turning point in the loss of the American republic. She never stopped being a partisan, even though she wasn't a Kook.
Sandy got the federal courthouse. William Rehnquist, who lived in Palmcroft and whose children I went to Kenilworth with, got nothing. But Rehnquist — initially dismissed by Richard Nixon as a "clown" — was much closer to today's Kookocracy than O'Connor, whom he briefly dated when both were at Stanford. The future chief justice gravitated very close to the John Birchers and proto-Kooks who would back Ev Mecham. He was involved in voter suppression in south Phoenix. Earlier, as a law clerk for Robert Jackson, he wrote a memo during the Brown v. Board of Education case supporting "separate-but-equal" segregation under Plessy v. Ferguson. Although Rehnquist may have evolved and was certainly better than John Roberts, he was closer to what Arizona has become thanks to the great, self-selecting Midwestern migration.
It is now Joe Arpaio's Arizona. However much the Resistance has tried, the world sees Arizona and thinks of this 21st century Bull Connor — aided by the fright mask of Jan Brewer and an ultra-reactionary Legislature. Mecham was simply ahead of his time. Give it enough time, and Ev will be remembered as a liberal. Too many of today's Arizonans believe Arpaio is the hero — and they vote. Can they really be a majority?
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." It will remain Arpaio's Arizona until more, many more, stand up.