Arizona may not be competitive in much — cheap housing and hot weather come to mind. But it seems determined to "out-crazy" other states in its rock-ribbed, doubled-down reactionary politics. Almost every day comes a story that speaks to the core concerns of today's right wing. For example, Joe Arpaio, High Sheriff for Life, is "investigating" the "fraud" of President Obama's birth certificate, claiming it is a cover-up "ten times worse than Watergate." Can Arizonans hear America laughing?
Other issues are not so funny. The assassination attempt on Rep, Gabrielle Giffords, inspired by the climate of hate, remains a huge stain. The Legislature long ago went from, let us say, liberalizing the laws affecting firearms to encouraging situations where firearm violence is inevitable. Salon, internationally read, has begun an entire archive devoted to Arizona and the entries are not sunny! Scottsdale! or championship golf! Among the headlines: "How Breitbart and Arizona seized on 'critical race theory' " and "Arizona's vicious war on workers." The New York Times specifically established a Phoenix bureau to cover Arizona crazy when the anti-immigrant, Jim Crow, voter-suppression SB 1070 debate was emerging. From Daily Kos : "Arizona out-crazies other contraception bills. Use birth control, get fired." Talking Points Memo reports on the violent neo-Nazi groups congregating in the state.
This is not an image problem. It is a reality problem, no matter the many Arizonans who are not crazy or extreme. In a state that already ranks so low on virtually any measure of social or economic well-being, it is a bright red "DO NOT COME HERE" alert, whether to companies deciding where to make quality investments or talented, educated people choosing their home.
I must say as a native that most of this is imported craziness from the great self-selecting Anglo migration, plus the nationalization of craziness through the huge right-wing machine — but Arizona is ground zero as well as the proving ground. Rather than acting like a West Coast state, it acts Southern-on-steroids. Don't get me wrong: We had our own crazy (I remain fond of Barry Goldwater's "lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin," the one being an H-bomb). We didn't hate brown people, although we happily exploited their cheap labor and Cesar Chavez was widely disliked by the Anglos. Guns were a part of growing up for many of us, but responsibly used — and it was not a highly populous, highly urbanized state then. But Arizona conservatism was as far from the social agenda of today's GOP as one can imagine. Peggy Goldwater helped start Planned Parenthood in central Arizona. Barry, who appreciated the ladies let us say, was adamantly against the Christian right's attempts to legislate morals. These were mainstream opinions of old Arizona conservatism, now gone.
It may well be that Roe vs. Wade was a colossal mistake of overreaching by the Supreme Court. The issue should not be politicized. If it must be, better for it to have been fought out in state legislatures and people could move accordingly. But in truth, abortions were much more commonplace (and dangerous) at the turn of the 20th century, when even giving information about contraception was illegal. And there was something like a sensible consensus emerging at century's end, when Bill Clinton said abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" and candidate W. saying conservatives needed to change people's hearts rather than seek a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion.
Today's Republicans embrace an agenda that my friend, a United Methodist minister, calls, "Christian fascism." They want to severely restrict if not outlaw contraception, not just outlaw abortion. Sex should only be for procreation. One might credit them with some principled consistency except for their full-throated advocacy of the death penalty. Plus, once you're born, you're on your own, sucker.
This is the white-right that had its hand clenched around the throat of my home state. Somehow I don't think building another million tract houses will fix this calamity.