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Reflections on Arizona from a long-time Minnesotan

Tim McGuire
Tim McGuire

TEMPE, ARIZ. – Around midday Sunday my friend and colleague at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School, Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor), tweeted this: “Are Arizona folks reflecting on the fact that hardly anyone was surprised that the shootings took place in AZ?”

I had just walked out of Catholic Mass and my first reaction to Dan’s tweet was “no, Dan most Arizonans are not aware of that.”

Sure Arizona has vitriolic political rhetoric, a president of the State Senate who many liberals believe has ties to conservative hate groups and a Maricopa County Sheriff who thinks it’s good politics to dress inmates in pink underwear and feed them baloney sandwiches. Despite all that, my perception is most Arizonans are taken aback by the fact that the rest of the country views Arizona as a hotbed of hatred. Certainly, talk radio on Monday seemed to reject that notion.

Just take a look at the debate kicked off by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said his state has “become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” As a consequence of speaking out, Dupnik is now coming under attack by many including the immensely popular U.S. Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz. Kyl said Dupnik’s comments were inappropriate and nothing more than “speculation.” 

Kyl made one crucial point. He said: “We really don’t know what motivated this young person except to know he was very mentally unstable as was pointed out ….”

I hesitated to write this reflection because of that fact. While the nation and the media rush to judgment and decide that Arizona is an ugly, racist place, there is apparently no direct evidence that Jared Lee Loughner is anything more than a seriously disturbed young man. Liberals may be dismayed, but the efforts to connect him to the Tea Party or Sarah Palin seem to be little more than mean-spirited speculation.

BUT, the argument that Arizona is a place where hate and mean-spiritedness have a comfortable home is not that far-fetched. I have a Latino friend who is incredibly respected in his field who refuses to make Arizona his permanent home because of the political environment. The rhetoric against Hispanics and undocumented immigrants is often disturbing. I suspect it would leave most Minnesotans with jaws agape. I know Minnesota has moved to the right since I was a full-time resident there, but my three months a year there tell me reason still marks Minnesota politics in most instances. That is not always the case in Arizona, where there are few curbs on some hateful language.

Before you make judgments about that race issue and immigration, one leavening idea is required. There is a decent argument to be made that Arizona has been left to fend for itself on the illegal immigration issue. The sense of abandonment by the federal government is real. There are not daily gun battles in Phoenix, and I personally remain totally unconvinced that undocumented workers have taken jobs white people wanted; but certainly Southern Arizona ranchers live in fear. Arizonans feel picked on when it comes to immigration.

Clearly, Arizona is a conservative state, but is it hateful? Do people in school, church and workplaces constantly hold hate in their hearts? My clear answer is no. 

The sin for most Arizonans, and perhaps most Minnesotans, is too few people stand up to hatred, political bullying and outrageousness. Too few people in Arizona and most other places have the courage to stand up and say, “Look, moderation is virtuous and I won’t tolerate extremism.” 

I have been bursting with pride for the last few months over the actions of my good friend Dave Durenberger and several of his important Republican friends. That group, disturbed by the stances of the GOP nominee for governor, supported the Independent candidate and are being punished for it. Marching in political lockstep is not good for any society. I fear that if political courage is punished our democracy takes a serious hit. 

My wife, Jean, and I have been discussing for several months whether passivity is acceptable anymore in the Arizona political environment. Saturday night we were in a sports bar near our home when another patron said some incendiary things about the events of the day. In an attempt at peace Jean quickly said, “It’s obvious political conversations won’t work between us.” The fellow ignored us and clearly wanted to fight, so he continued.

In the past we would have moved, or just let the fellow spout. Not anymore. We fought back. We spoke our minds and spoke for our perception of justice. The bully backed off.  I don’t kid myself that we changed his mind, but we did make him aware that there is diversity of opinion. Maybe, just maybe, that fellow, radio talkers, vehement bloggers and commenters will think a little bit before they express volatile opinions.

All Arizonans, all Americans who believe they are moderate and reasonable in their views, who believe they are without hate and who believe malice is poisoning our political society, need to begin speaking up now. We all need to understand we are accountable for what the leaders of our state say and do. The actions of our “leaders” do reflect on each of us.

Tim McGuire is the Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School, Arizona State University. He blogs at McGuire on Media. McGuire was editor and senior vice president of the Star Tribune from 1992 to 2002.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/11/2011 - 09:41 am.

    If good people do not have the courage to speak out in the face of evil, that evil always wins.

    Behaving peaceably is often a useful and helpful course, but if doing so allows evil to go unchallenged, then our desire to be “peaceable” reveals itself to be cowardice.

    Unless those of us who have been put off by the constant declarations by so many of our “conservative” friends…

    that those we know to be completely harmless and largely blameless are “evil,”

    …unless we come to realize that the problem with such statements is NOT the idea that there is “evil” in the world, but with the motivations of those who continuously point the finger of evil at others while ignoring their own dysfunctions,

    using that misidentification as a smokescreen to hide their own misdeeds (often even from themselves), we allow evil to flourish.

    “Live and let live” is a helpful and useful approach to life, but when it becomes completely overgeneralized, as it so often now is among us liberals, it allows cancerous attitudes to take root in our society and vastly increases the likelihood that such attitudes will result in some among us taking VERY destructive actions.

    At this point in time, “live and let live,” is already well down the path of taking our nation in directions we have never wanted to go. It’s time for those of us who realize that there is evil in the world to challenge it wherever and whenever we find it.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 01/11/2011 - 09:58 am.

    How incredibly naive is this commentary. Yes, Kyle and other conservatives try to pass this off as just a deranged person out of control, with analogies to Columbine etc. This is nothing more than attempts at deflecting what happened here: THIS WAS A POLITICAL ASSASINATION! The target was not some general rage at society — it was a planned, premeditated murder of a specific Democratic congresswoman who had previous threats (if it had been a Republican congressperson, it still would fall into the category of a political assasination). Any attempts to deny this is disengenuous.

    His reference to Sarah Palin is intersting as well. Despite her crocodile tears, please note Palin took down the chart on her website showing the crosshairs of Gifford’s district. Why? Because even she know there is an implicit connection with her rhetoric and actions.

    McGuire may wish to defend Arizona as a less than violent state — less than what? It is one of three states that have totally unihibited gun control laws with guns allowed everywhere from bars to the state capitol…a right wing governor who has racist tendancies…and a Senator like Kyle.

  3. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 01/11/2011 - 11:25 am.

    Tim McGuire is exactly right in saying that we all have a responsibility to talk back to political incendiaries, but in a somewhat low-key and respectful manner. We have to let these people know that many disagree, that disagreement can be civil and that violence has no place in settling a political argument.

  4. Submitted by Robert Langford on 01/11/2011 - 11:52 am.

    I winter in Tucson, Arizona, and in fact, use the shopping center where this horrible act took place for my banking and bakery needs. I believee the Sheriff is very accurate in his observations and conclusions. My experience is that there has been a very rapid declination of civility in Arizona over the past three years. Mostly, it is obvious in the vitriol that comes from the Arizona legislature and far right politicians. Kyl does little more than reflect his own failings so clearly represented by his inordinately bad behavior in stopping consideration of the Nuclear treaty in the Senate. Look up the effort by the new Attorney General and former State Education head to shut down the Tucson programs aimed at educating Tuscon minority sstudents, and you get a real sense of what it is all about. The Legislature has been unable to spend time and find committment to balance the budget in the State, but incessantly does the work of the NRA in promoting gun ownership and violence, by passing laws permitting about anyone to buy and carry concealed weapons about everywhere, including bars. I am surprise the writer did not experience the argumentative bar acquaintance pulling his weapon to prove his point. It would be possible, if not likely or related to political discourse, in Arizona. These realities seem to me a direct result of the irrational, heated and flagrant pressure of the far right in the state, whether or not directly linked.

  5. Submitted by Tim Walker on 01/11/2011 - 01:43 pm.

    “All Arizonans, all Americans who believe they are moderate and reasonable in their views, who believe they are without hate and who believe malice is poisoning our political society, need to begin speaking up now.”

    Yes, I do speak up often, and I will do so now. And I say this: Right-wing government leaders — elected ones such as “immensely popular” Sen. John Kyl, and unelected ones such as Sarah Palin — have poisoned the political dialog by using violent imagery and rhetoric to describe their political enemies. They engage in McCarthyism to smear their enemies.

    They need to stop.

  6. Submitted by donald maxwell on 01/11/2011 - 04:03 pm.

    Mr McGuire has written thoughtfully, but I can’t agree when he says “the efforts to connect him to the Tea Party or Sarah Palin seem to be little more than mean-spirited speculation.” What is going here is not speculation, it is pointing out cause and effect. And why is that mean-spirited?

    There is no effort going on to make a direct link between Palin and the killings. But when her ads have made a specific person a symbolic killing target, and then one of the many, many armed disturbed people in our society follow up on that targeting, where is the responsibility? Sarah Palin should be begging the forgiveness of the families involved in this tragedy. But she apparently has neither the compssion nor the guts to do so.

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/11/2011 - 05:31 pm.

    Sarah Palin tied herself to this. No one had to do it for her. She has been handed a prime opportunity to reflect on her own rhetoric, to seek to cool passions, to offer to think about what she says, and she’s done none of that. I’ve yet to hear anyone on the right ask whether their rhetoric could have played a role or is potentially dangerous. If they don’t want to admit it’s mostly on their side, fine, don’t, but just defending it? Denying the obvious? Some moderating words could have soothed the anger that, as far as I can tell, seems to be growing rather than shrinking in reaction to this incident. I hold out hope that my inability to read minds means I could be wrong.

  8. Submitted by rolf westgard on 01/12/2011 - 07:57 am.

    Right on, Myles. Foortunately, Minnpost doesn’t allow gun sight targets to be pasted over postings.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/12/2011 - 09:48 am.

    I look forward to hearing what the FBI finds on this young man’s computer. If I’m not mistaken, it will show the things that helped influence his decision to kill and his choice of a target.

    Re: Immigration. The U.S. began the drug trade in the 1980s when Reagan’s had members of the CIA illegally run drugs in order to raise money to illegally support the Shah of Iran. We see now the terrifying violence in the Mexican cities that border our country as Mexico’s cartel leaders kill off one another and Mexico’s police.

    When CAFTA came into being, poor Latin American countries were forced to open their borders to, among other things, American agricultural products being exported by our largest agri-business firms. These firms immediately began shipping wheat, beans and corn (Mexican staples) in Mexico and underpricing them until they had forced millions of Mexican farmers out of business. These are the farmers who desperately seek employment in the U.S., often risking their lives to sneak into the country.

    SUGGESTION: States like Arizona and California could ask American growers how many Mexican workers they need for their growing season. This many workers, documented or not, would be allowed to legally enter the U.S. for the length of that season and then returned to the border by their employers.

  10. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 01/17/2011 - 07:39 pm.

    To Myles Spicer (@#2):- Thank you, Myles. Your comments here are succinct and spot on. What’s more, they touched all the bases, as far as I’m concerned.


    To Mr. Tim McGuire:- You may have been a long-time Minnesotan at some point, but your defense of Arizona shows you’ve caught their virus. When you said that Kyl is “immensely popular,” I couldn’t help but chuckle. And, of-course, we all know about John McCain and what an embarrassment he has been (I can’t believe I was rooting for him back in 2000.) So to summarize, Mr. McGuire, please keep your Arizona to yourself, and if some old Minnesotans now want to follow you there, God speed. And let’s not hear from them soon!

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