Thursday, November 10, 2011


Senator Russell Pearce is out

As an unabashed partisan "old" Democrat, I took pleasure in seeing the glum face of Senator Pearce of Arizona on the front page of today's newspaper (Thursday, November 10, 2011).  This is the man who authored and pushed the Arizona law regarding illegal aliens that has had so much publicity in the past year or so.  I almost feel sympathy for the poor man.  He found a hot issue that many Arizonans cared about and created a law that matched their desires.  Now, a year or so later, Arizona voters have turned against him and have recalled him from office.

What's a politician to do?  If he's ambitious he wants to appeal to a large segment of the population so that he will be in position to seek a higher elective office.  Our government is supposed to be a democracy, isn't it?  If the people want something, they should be able to get their government to give it to them or at least do something about it.  A year or two ago many Arizonans wanted government - State or federal - to crack down on illegal immigrants.  Found them up.  Carry them to the border and dump them back into Mexico where they belong.  The federal government has no consistent policy on undocumented immigration.  Senator Pearce authored a law that allowed (or required?) police officials to check the immigration status of anyone they arrested who had some chance of being "illegal," and if so, see to it that they were taken back to the nearest foreign country or turned over to the federal INS.  Tough, definite action in response to a strong public sentiment.

What's happened to that sentiment?  Are Arizonans becoming soft on illegal immigration, like us softies in California?  What's a politician supposed to do in a democracy if not respond to strong public opinion?

Well, there's the rub.  Years ago I read a book by a professional pollster who noted that Americans do not have good ways of working their way from "mass opinion" to "public judgment."  Mass opinion is a sentiment that can be very strong for a while, and then simply blow away.  Public judgment is a sentiment or opinion held by a majority of voters that is pretty fixed.  The voters have heard and studied all the arguments for and against a thing and have become settled in their support or opposition.  Senator Pearce should have consulted the pollster.
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