The Media Zone

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Governor Brewer's Pregnant 16 Seconds of Humiliating Fame

Brewer was uncomprehending of the words in front of her.

 

Yesterday, Arizona's "accidental" Governor, Jan Brewer corrected her now-notorious and erroneous assertion that headless Mexican bodies are littering the Arizona's landscape this side of the Mexican border, an allegation which served to highlight the so-called violent nature of drug-embroiled, illegal immigrants. Brewer's public reversal was an achingly long time and many stubborn refusals in coming, expressed with fulsome half-heartedness (hey, there's an important election coming up).

Only a few days earlier Brewer began an election debate with her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard, by blanking out during her introductory statement (just like I used to do in statistics finals, but in the mental, bubbled privacy of my classroom chair-desk). There was a horribly excruciating 16-second interval where she went silent, stared down at her notes and giggled nervously. She struggled to get back, find her place, recall her memorized speech, but nothing was working.

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For her in-studio and TV audiences it may have that this was a classic case of a speaker going blank; that Brewer had either lost her place or forgot her prepared words.

But wait a minute! Brewer didn't forget her lines. She wasn't relying on memory. Her speech and/or notes were printed on the pages before her. She was staring right at them. But she couldn't see them, or make sense of the words on the page. She seemed literally uncomprehending of the words in front of her. They might as well have been written in Spanish or Farsi.

Indeed it seemed that Gov. Brewer was in the throes of -- you call it: prescription drug abuse brain dysfunction, drunk, early stages of senile dementia, or she had suddenly been afflicted by a mini-stroke or seizure.

Whatever the culprit of disruption, since Brewer couldn't read the language of the preformed talking points, notes, outlined cues, etc., before her, she was forced to improvise from memory, come up with some way to fill the airtime as an audience of eyes and cameras kept the focus, the heat, on her.

The 16 seconds must have felt like an eternity. She tried to talk by priming the pump, not knowing where her words would take her. She needed some orienting verbal tractor beam to pull her into coherence.

She found this when her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard, who claimed that Arizona was losing business because people around the country now believe it's a hellhole of immigration-fueled violence, snapped her into focus: "Jan, I call upon you today to say there are no beheadings," he demanded. He asked her to renounce her erroneous assertion that beheaded bodies were found in the desert on the Arizona side of the US-Mexico border.

Brewer had a focus instantly--attack! Jujitsu the question with an irrelevant counter-demand, "Terry, I will call you out. I think that you ought to renounce your support and endorsement of the unions that are boycotting our state,"[because of the controversial immigration legislation recently signed and even championed] Brewer responded. She was back!

But then, post-debate, Brewer again looked befuddled and confused (something I like to call confuddled.), as reporters pressed her to admit she was mistaken about the headless- bodies-in-Arizona dust-up she created. Again, she reverted to that confuddled look and only recovered when she hit upon the idea of walking away without answering the salvo of questions.

The next day, Gov. Brewer announced she would do no more debates.

Huh? Well, like the assignment officer used to say in the beginning of every episode of Hill Street Blues, before the officers fanned out into the city to do their police assignments, "Let's be careful out there." Or, as Randy Newman's lyric in the theme song for the Police Detective series, Monk, warned the phobic OCD detective , "...it's a jungle out there." That's obviously good advice for officers of the law. Apparently for politicians as well, especially those in some way verbally, or cognitively challenged.--Hide out-don't speak out.

Good advice for them, but not for the voters. Presumably an informed electorate is a preferred electorate. But if the candidate hides what he or she thinks, believes or knows, or if she hides whether she can, in fact, think and speak on her feet, or is qualified to hold political or elective office, the electorate is buying a pig in a poke. More often than not, they get poked. Right in the eye. Think of the politicians who can't and couldn't... Yeah, you know who I'm talking about.

In Brewer's case, it looks as though she may be indeed hiding a serious medical condition, one with emotional, cognitive implications, bearing directly on her ability to hold and execute the responsibilities of the office of governor of Arizona.

This is not like President Woodrow Wilson who, in office serving out his term, aided by his wife and cabinet of political "handlers," hid the severity of his incapacity to perform his presidential duties as (something which Brewer may already be guilty of).

Nor is this similar to FDR hiding his polio-related paralysis when, with the cooperation of the news media, he did not allow his wheel-chair-boundedness to be filmed or photographed.

Brewer's disability may be closer to Ronald Reagan's early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Exactly what she is suffering from is still unclear. But we can be certain of one thing: just like a cockroach in your kitchen, where you can be sure there's never just one, there has surely been more than one Brewer confuddlement. It may have been out of the public sight, hiding out, it may have been controlled by medication, it may have been "worked around," or her actual decision-making may have been "outsourced like Woodrow Wilson's.

If Brewer's deficits are related to polydrug interactions or reversible chronic, prescriptive drug use, then she should be open about it and the steps she is or will be taking to eliminate or control these symptoms so as to allow her to continue to run as a medically sound candidate for Governor.

If she is an alcoholic or illicit drug abuser, then she should not be running for office or at least not until her addictions are under control.

But if, as it seemed, she is suffering from either a stroke or senility or some other form of cerebro-cardiovascular disorder, the electorate should be apprised of it and be allowed to make informed decisions in the voting booth. Hiding out backstage so as to save face (as sociologist Erving Goffman would describe it in his dramaturgical (or theatrical) theory of social interaction and the presentation of self) is definitely not the strategy she or her party or supporters should embrace; certainly not just because she signed a controversial piece of immigration legislation that is popular with the angry political Right of America.

Supporting a candidate who is otherwise medically and/or physically unqualified to hold office would be most undemocratic, un-American and cynical thing to do. The news media owes it to the voters of Arizona to uncover the truth and act responsibly. As does the GOP and its Tea Party brethren.

 

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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