First there was the pink underwear worn by jail inmates. Next came the tent cities, erected at a fraction of the cost of traditional brick and mortar jails. Finally, there were the chain gangs, a throwback to the days when the lives of inmates included hard labor, rather than weight lifting and television privileges.
Through it all there was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the elected sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who defended his regressive measures by proclaiming (correctly) that our troops in Iraq were facing similar conditions while under the threat of a war zone. In other words, stop whining.
It was all an interesting take on the incarceration model, and I admit I wondered whether Joe Arpaio might be a pretty smart fellow. Now I know – Joe Arpaio is a birther.
Never one to shirk his imagined duties, Sheriff Joe has established himself as the chief investigator, judge and jury of the President’s documented birth in the State of Hawaii. According to a story in the Trib (7/19), the sheriff’s “investigation” has concluded that President Obama’s birth certificate is not legitimate.
Even the most ardent of Obama haters – and yes, the “H” word does apply to far too many of his detractors – have abandoned the birther viewpoint. This leaves Sheriff Joe in a very small group of individuals whose intellectual capacity is as suspect as their allegations.
Thus begins the death spiral so common in celebrity circles. Sheriff Joe, like other well known figures (remember Gary Busey before he went insane?), will have a descent as rapid as his rise as a public figure.
Forget the long-dead debate about a piece of paper. For those of us who thought Joe Arpaio might have some further contribution to our nation’s struggle with incarceration costs and effectiveness, only one question needs an answer: Why did you do it, Sheriff Joe? Why?
My guess is that Joe Arpaio (pause for a shock) does not take criticism well. Among his constant critics are the nagging members of President Obama’s Department of Justice, who have been loud in their condemnation of Sheriff Joe’s treatment of minorities in his jurisdiction. Not coincidentally, a civil discrimination suit against Arpaio is set to begin today. Whether these allegations are true or not, Sheriff Joe has responded loudly in his own defense.
This latest “investigation” (those quotes aren’t going anywhere) is likely the second phase of a response which could easily be dubbed Operation Arpaio’s Ire. Unfortunately, this absurd and self-obsessed effort will likely be the final act of a man heading down the path of self-destruction.
That is really too bad. This country thrives on visionaries, and Arpaio’s self-sustaining jails had all the appearance of a retro vision for future prisons: where living in tents and raising crops help relieve the enormous financial burden; where hard work provides inmates with self worth. Instead of expanding on this vision, Sheriff Joe has chosen to toss his diminishing credibility into the sinkhole of gotcha politics.
What a waste.