I’m a political science student working on a paper. Basically, I’m trying to figure out how Sheriff Joe Arpaio keeps winning elections?
Dear Stuck Student,
Wish I had a buck for every time someone asked me that same question. If you believe the media coverage of the Sheriff, you might wonder the same thing. Heck, you might wonder just based on what you hear people talking about.
And if you are a Democrat…. Oy.
But I have never believed that the answer to this question requires an advanced degree. In fact, I think it is pretty darn simple: Sheriff Joe is a pill; probably ani anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med.
Sheriff Joe is a catharsis pill.
Think of it this way: A population that is bombarded with stories about crime, danger and ‘us versus them’ can get a bit, well, wound up pretty tight. All that tension has to come out sometime, but regular folks like us really don’t have a way of directing that tension release at the bad guys who are getting us all worked up.
Enter Sheriff Joe.
Arpaio does what regular people can’t do nomatter how much they might want to: he makes them wear pink underwear. And live in tents. And go out to clean up the stuff we toss out of our car windows; in chains, no less.
He even takes unflattering photos of them and puts them on the Internet.
Despite all of the insanity, illegal activities, abuse of authority and violation of rights that goes with him, Maricopa County voters are getting something out of the arrangement: We get to see the guy we elected do stuff that we can’t do. So we wind up feeling better. Not necessarily safer, but given a steady diet of the stuff that humiliates the bad guys we have a cathartic experience releasing our tension.
So, why, given that valuable contribution to the voters’ mental health, would they toss him out just because he violates the Constitution every once in a while?
Mind you a whole lot of people would very much like to see him retire, perhaps to launch an Internet site selling all sorts of Sheriff Joe stuff — pink underwear, autographed scraps of used tents, etc. They do. But the various softball opponents that have come his way haven’t yet been able to look past the insanity to really get a grip on the grand bargain between Joe and the voters: We’ll look the other way when he does bad stuff as long as he keeps doing bad stuff to the bad guys.
Which is why, I’ve believed for some time, that a winning strategy must ‘retire’ Sheriff Joe, not clobber him. The voter-Arpaio bargain has to be respected for its powerful grip on county politics while being despised for all of the baggage that’s brought.
In other words, the winning strategy is to NOT go after him for his cathartic stunts, but embrace them and suggest how to do them better. Give the voters assurances that they won’t lose their one and only way of getting back at the folks who rob, attack or kill their way into our homes every day in the newspaper, on TV, radio or our favorite web sites. Do that and sound like you’re less crazy then there is a fightiingf chance.
Hope that helps. And, by the way, since this was all done in the spirit of academic advancement, lets keep this between us, eh?