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Arizona Is No Longer a Cowboy Libertarian- Conservative Bastion

by Robert Nelson Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2004 at 10:10 PM
letters@prospect.org 2000 L Street NW, Suite 717m Washington, DC 20036

Arizona's desert-dwelling Democrats are sick of losing, and of George W. Bush. That's why John Kerry is their man.

American Prospect : 2.3.04

Chronic humiliation rewires one's desires in unsavory ways. Arizona's Democrats have racked up an impressive litany of failures over the past 20 years. And when they lose, they very often lose badly to some of the biggest chumps in American political history.

Exhibit A: How can you possibly lose to a wacky, no-name, ultra-right-wing car salesman named Evan Mecham? Within 12 months of taking the governor's office in 1987, he faced impeachment by the state legislature, a trial on perjury and fraud charges, and a recall election. He became known as "the most despised politician in the United States," according to British newspaper the Telegraph.

Then the Democrats lost the governor's office to Fife Symington, who, instead of facing impeachment like Mecham, simply resigned in 1997. He was under investigation for bank and wire fraud.

Come on! Can't you at least lose to someone who can hold the office for four years?

No wonder Arizona Democrats are smarting. It's one thing to be a loser; it's a whole other rung of hell to have yourself defined in world opinion by the actions of the dimwits you were too incompetent to beat.

And when you've lost badly for this long, your focus skews. In time, politics is no longer about values and ideas and courage and sportsmanship and putting the best players on the field. Instead, it's about making sure the other guy loses. This means you monomaniacally focus on the issue of matchups. And sometimes, this means using a lot of the same plays as the team that perpetually beat you.

Here, that means moving to the center. Moderates have been flowing in from the Midwest at record rates over the past 10 years, while, at the same time, a new burst of California left-leaners have arrived, escaping the skyrocketing costs of living in that state. As a result, Arizona is no longer purely a cowboy libertarian-conservative bastion. It's become a mishmash of vaguely centrist values.

So, in short, the party that wins the center wins the state.

Not surprisingly, the new focus on the center is working. Janet Napolitano, a gubernatorial candidate anointed by the Democratic establishment primarily because she was a broadly inoffensive centrist, won the governor's office over a staunch conservative. And in the week leading up to Tuesday's primary, we've been hearing surprisingly little conversation about who would be the best candidate to represent the party. Or, for that matter, about ideas, values, and concepts of human progress. The only issue is this: Who can beat George W. Bush?

Because when Arizona's Democratic voters see Bush, they see Mecham and Symington and all the other local conservative bozos that have clobbered them in the past. All they want now is victory. So if it means moving to the center, they're going to oblige.

In short, here's what they're thinking:

Howard Dean? Kind of like the passion, sort of dig the Apache war-cry incident. But too many people don't like passion. He can't win. No go.

Joe Lieberman? Are you crazy? The Arizona Republic, the state paper of record, endorsed him. What an endorsement from The Arizona Republic means is that conservatives want the guy to get the nomination so they can kick the crap out of him.

John Edwards? Can't get traction outside the South.

Wesley Clark? Not ready for prime time.

Ah, but this John Kerry fellow has the look of a statesman. And not too hot, not too cold with a military record to nullify the Bush patriotism machine. Pretty strong offense, very strong defense. And when victory is the issue, a guy's win-loss record is everything.

Kerry will win Arizona because the only thing Arizona Democrats care about anymore is winning.

But who can blame them? When all you've known is humiliating loss, you can understand how a little winning might appear to be everything.

Robert Nelson is a columnist for the Phoenix New Times. Last year he won an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies' first-place award for political commentary.

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