The New York Times is reporting that the Department of Justice just filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Arpaio, for anyone unfamiliar with the chronically publicity-seeking, oafishly belligerent ogre whose personal biography boasts about how harshly he treats prisoners in Maricopa jails, went on record a few weeks back to announce that the crack computer analysts of the MCSO had determined that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery.
I remember being kind of surprised by this at the time, not because I thought Sheriff Arpaio was above this kind of ridiculous nonsense (on the contrary, high-visibility, low impact publicity stunts are his bread and butter), but why he would have even bothered. Obama has been in office for over three years, it’s unclear that Arpaio has any relevant jurisdiction to even render a legal opinion on the matter, and even a self-absorbed media whore like he has to recognize that his investigation will have all the impact on the national political scene as a fart in a tornado. The Justice Department will prioritize it somewhere behind finding Judge Crater, and the State Department will ignore it.
But then the Justice department sued Joe Arpaio for racial discrimination, and suddenly it all made sense. This lawsuit wasn’t a bolt from the blue, the Justice Department has been investigating him for quite some time–since well before he got involved with the birth certificate nonsense–and local critics, sensing blood in the water, started pressuring the Justice Department to shit or get off the pot (I think they phrased it differently in the formal letter).
And with that, the batshit craziness of not only investigating the sitting President’s birth certificate, but also declaring it a forgery based on an armchair analysis of “discrepancies”, went from what appeared to be a desperately needy publicity stunt to a clever marketing strategy for his 2012 re-election campaign. It is important that, despite numerous allegations of criminal wrongdoing, nothing has ever been proven against him and he’s not being charged with a crime. Rather, the Justice Department lawsuit is an attempt to recoup federal dollars that were granted to the MCSO as reimbursement for the additional costs of detaining illegal immigrants, but which the Justice Department is saying was instead used to fund his own personal “Lock Up Beaners Everywhere, Use Profiling” program. Worst case, Arpaio isn’t facing jail time, just a a hefty bill, and he doesn’t have to pay it anyways, it’s not like it would be coming out of his personal checking account.
There has been speculation that the lawsuit could hurt Arpaio’s re-election–but I’m not buying it, I think if anything the lawsuit assures him another term. Win or lose, Arpaio gets to stand at a podium and spout tough sounding talk like a latter day, low-rent John Wayne, and his supporters will eat that up. He can cast the lawsuit as retaliation for his investigation into Obama, and frame any award as government retribution for exposing the truth. Arpaio is a Tea Party darling, and this lawsuit will play perfectly into their anti-Federal, anti-Obama narrative. If he wins the lawsuit, he’s David, slaying Goliath. There’s no losing scenario for him under the current circumstances (should criminal charges be filed, that would be a whole different thing).
In any case, the mystery of the sudden flirtation with the birthers makes sense, not so much as a sincere expression of genuine skepticism but rather as a cynical ploy to play to his more outrageous supporters. I’m honestly not sure what’s worse. Either way, looks like Maricopa county residents will have Joe Arpaio to kick around for another 4 years.
Update 05/24/12: A couple of Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputies got a free, taxpayer funded vacation in Hawaii as part of Arpaio’s ongoing effort to maintain this stupid charade. If I lived there I’d be pissed.