The Ol' Nativist Soft Shoe: Sheriff Joe Does Conan O'Brien

Crazy Nativist Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona was on Conan O'Brien's late-nite show last night, touting his dubious new reality-TV show on Fox. They showed a clip of it, and it looks like an entertainment straight out of Brazil.

What resulted was the usual travesty when entertainment talkers host newsmaking figures -- the underlying issues were distorted and falsified, and an ugly authoritarian was presented as a mainstream "good guy."

O'Brien couldn't evade the fact that Arpaio is a controversial figure (in fact, NBC had been inundated with phone calls protesting his appearance), and brought it up:

O'Brien: OK, let's cut to the chase. You are quite a controversial, polarizing figure. You'll admit that, that is true. You've done some things in your state that have a lot of people upset. We actually had a group distributing leaflets downstairs for a group protesting your appearance on the show. That has not happened since Howie Mandel was here several years ago.

[Laughter]

O'Brien then starts to enumerate the supposed reasons people are "upset" with Arpaio -- and names Arpaio's use of pink underwear for his inmates in Maricopa County's jails. From there the interview devolves into a cute depiction of Arpaio as a get-tough kinda guy who just wants to put bad guys in jail.

The pink underwear, however, is just a minor indication of the bigger problem Arpaio represents: a toxic mix of Nativist racism and thuggish authoritarianism in a police authority.

The people downstairs don't care that much about the pink underwear. What they care about is the naked racial profiling Arpaio has indulged in harassing Latinos in his county. They care about the horrendous law-enforcement record that Arpaio's fetish about illegal immigrants has produced. They care about the expensive lawsuits taxpayers will have to ante up for that Arpaio has wrought, mostly from the horrendous jail conditions he has permitted.

O'Brien, for some reason, didn't mention any of that. Instead, one of the country's ugliest authoritarians was packaged for the public as a stand-up guy. What a joke. And it's not a funny one.

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