- - Friday, December 16, 2011

By Gov. Jan Brewer
Foreword by Gov. Sarah Palin
Broadside Books, $25.99, 228 pages

If a title like “Scorpions for Breakfast” doesn’t suggest anything particular about the author’s persona and purposes, well, let me merely recommend a second cup of coffee.

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer takes on all manner of modern shortcomings: in particular, what she views with some reason as liberal and Democratic apathy regarding the porosity of her state’s borders, across which illegal immigrants stream without much resembling hindrance. She is at particular pains to affirm the integrity and importance of Arizona’s much-castigated and - litigated - immigration statute, S.B. 1070, framed to assert the state’s sovereign interest in who comes to Arizona and how.

Excuse us, Arizona essentially has said, but if the federal government won’t enforce existing law meant to control immigration, it only makes sense that the state should step in. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed recently to rule next year on the statute’s constitutionality.

The guts of S.B. 1070, in terms of public image at least, is a provision empowering police, during a legitimate law enforcement exercise such as a traffic stop, to check those involved for proof of legal residence. The law further bans the hiring of day laborers in public places and prohibits law enforcement from shielding illegals against the possibility of deportation.

Mrs. Brewer’s account of S.B. 1070s movement through the legislative process is hot to the touch. For this she blames in considerable degree the Obama administration, which she says encouraged “mass hysteria over the law.” She points out with some satisfaction that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who filed suit to have the law struck down, acknowledged he had never read the original bill.

Never mind. It was enough for those with limited reading time to sniff racism in the Arizona air. Out-of-staters descended on Arizona to evidence their displeasure. State police had to be stationed at the governor’s house to protect the occupant, who was being likened to Adolf Hitler by sweet-natured advocates for the right of non-Americans to move to Arizona as they chose.

Hostile audiences sought to shout her down. As she drove to the place where she would sign the bill - against the gratuitous advice of unions, some Hispanic groups and even some conservatives - she witnessed people “stomping on [American flags] and writing things on them. Meanwhile, Mexican flags were being waved in the air.”

President Obama the same day attacked the bill for menacing “basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” None of that improved her mood or allayed her determination to sign a measure she saw as essential to Arizona’s interest.

“Scorpions for Breakfast,” as one might suppose, given provocations such as the above, is combative in tone. That seems not so bad a thing, weighed against the hypercombativeness of the opposition to S.B. 1070. The issues at stake are enormous. It helps to know they stir emotions at a deep level, even if the stirring of those emotions prevents easy resolution.

“The truth,” Mrs. Brewer asserts, “is that too many who don’t want to secure our borders don’t see America as anything special or worth fighting for … in fact, they see a strong, cohesive American identity as something people cling to” - here she riffs on a still-notorious Obama misstep from the 2008 campaign - “out of bigotry and fear. They see being proud to be an American as an expression not of pride but of prejudice. They find it kind of embarrassing.”

Yes? No? Mrs. Brewer’s intensity as writer and elected political figure brooks no evasion of what she sees as the national duty at least to confront the accusation she brings against the above-mentioned “too many.” She wants it aired, put on the table, talked about.

Resolved? That might be asking for more than the governor - who is sometimes called “Janbo,” a reference to fighting spirit - actually has in mind. Recognition of her concerns is what she seems to hanker for the most; her concerns and those of the Arizonans, seemingly a majority for now, who dislike a lot of things going on in their country and want some changes made - and certain other changes unmade.

Mrs. Brewer calls S.B. 1070 “a wake-up call,” saying she signed it “to send a clear, unequivocal message to Washington.” The message: “Mr. President: Do your job. Secure our border!”

OK. And if he doesn’t listen or respond? That’s all to be seen, of course. What’s clear enough in “Scorpions of Breakfast” is that Arizona’s governor probably wouldn’t mind letting loose one or two of those bad-natured desert scourges in a dark room filled with people unwilling to distinguish the Third Reich from an American state working to address its own destiny.

How Palinesque Mrs. Brewer might be called and what kind of role she might foresee for herself in national politics is not easy to say on brief acquaintance. But her pungent little book sports a pungent Sarah Palin introduction, with the description of her as “a down-to-earth mom committed to public service and principled leadership,” an “authentic leader” who “talks straight and does what she believes is right for the people she serves - even when it’s the hard thing to do.”


William Murchison is a syndicated columnist.

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