Politicians grandstand to stay in front row - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Politicians grandstand to stay in front row

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 2:20 pm | Updated: 2:20 pm, Fri Jan 27, 2012.

A couple of observations from somewhere east of Eden, er, Phoenix ...

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Anyone who thinks Gov. Jan Brewer wasn't grandstanding when she recognized that she would have several seconds alone with President Barack Obama as he stepped off Air Force One in Mesa Wednesday doesn't know that opportunism is at the bedrock of American politics. Brewer was literally playing it for Peoria (Arizona). And she succeeded.

Months ago, Brewer had publicly invited Obama to Arizona to join her at the Mexican border for a tour and discussion of what border states such as Arizona face in dealing with illegal immigration. The president declined the tour.

So why didn't Brewer realize that after all this time the border tour wasn't going to happen? Because she never expected Obama to take her up on it. In fact, that was the last thing she wanted him to do.

If Obama had thought a moment, turned to Brewer and said, "You know, you're right! I should join you at the border. I'll probably cave in on SB 1070 as well!" the governor would have probably needed help getting up off the tarmac.

These tricks are as old as the hills. Pols of both parties employ them. An old favorite is the old empty chair ruse. One candidate sets up an empty chair at a public gathering to demonstrate his or her opponent's cowardice about participating in a debate that the opponent was invited to join in, but didn't.

"I've set up this chair," the candidate would say. "I can't imagine why my opponent isn't here! Let's look out the window and see if my opponent is driving up ... No? Well, I'm certainly surprised! Wait, let me check my cell phone ... Nope, no voice mail, no text messages. My, my, I almost certainly thought he was going to be here, didn't you?"

And so on. Of course the opponent wasn't going to show. But it's exactly that kind of situation that creates the chance for the maudlin, vote-getting appeal of a naked setup.

There was Brewer waiting at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, with her letter in hand. Obama reportedly told Brewer he didn't like her book. Nothing new in that; a lot of people don't like her book.

And a lot of people do, or, more likely, badly want to find out what's in it that Obama doesn't like: Capitol Media Services reports in the Tribune statistics from Amazon.com ranking it 285,568th in sales of all titles on its list as of Wednesday. That leaped to 56th by Thursday morning and to 20th by Thursday afternoon, the report said. Memo to the president: Remember, sir, that the greatest boom to sales of a book or tickets to a movie is that it was "Banned in Boston," or, in this case, "Disliked by the president."

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said in a story by reporter Garin Groff in Friday's Tribune that the widely distributed photo of Brewer seemingly pointing a finger at Obama was a fortunate capturing of the governor moving her arm.

"As animated as the discussion was, I don't ever recall her pointing her finger," Groff quoted Smith as saying on Thursday.

If he did make a comment about the book, Obama is probably regretting it today; once Brewer handed him the letter he should have just defaulted to, "Well, I am certainly glad to be here in Arizona! Won't you join me as I shake hands with a few folks?" But he didn't.

It's not likely Brewer is going to cease inviting Obama to the Mexican border; it's too effective of a flame-fanning device for her political base. The empty chair with Obama's name on it is going to be on that stage for some time to come.

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The state Senate passed a bill last week forbidding teens younger than 18 with less than six months' licensed driving experience - or those only with a learner's permit - to use cell phones while driving.

That teenagers talk too much on cell phones while driving, and that it is a dangerous practice, is not in dispute. But cell phones have become the scapegoat for virtually all accident-causing driving, and that's simply not true.

Teenagers only do more of what many older folks also do while driving: Apply makeup, shave, crank up the stereo, balance various foods and drinks on their laps while eating, reaching into the back seat, looking away from what's directly in front of them at any number of distractions including the opposite sex, and so on.

You won't find any of those in the bill, even though all of those - certainly combined - cause more accidents than cell phone use alone.

But cell phones are relatively new compared to all those other examples of distracted driving, and thus are more on the minds of the public as a distraction than those time-honored, less-cool-looking activities two paragraphs above.

So why pass such a law? Because politicians love to grandstand, don't they?

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