By DeWayne Wickham
I really wanted to ignore the dust up over President Obama’s recent ugly encounter with Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. As troubling as it was to see the picture of her wagging her finger in his face, the shock value of such a showing of disrespect towards the president has by now worn off on me.
Brewer was just the most recent in a growing list of right-wingers to publicly display their contempt for him. My outrage over how she got up in Obama’s face like an irate mother lecturing an overgrown son also was tempered by the president’s attempt to downplay the incident, which centered on how he was portrayed in Brewer’s recent book.
“This is not a big deal,” Obama told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer about the incident that occurred on the tarmac of Phoenix’s airport moments after he stepped off of Air Force One a few days ago. “I think this is a classic example of things getting blown out of proportion.”
Brewer’s actions would have been disrespectful to any president, but the fact that Obama is our first black president raises questions of her real motives. That’s because the Arizona governor seemed to be channeling Willa Jean Boswell when she said she “felt a little bit threatened” by the president during her terse exchange with him, which occurred in front of two local mayors, Secret Service agents, a knot of journalists and a small group of people who stood in a nearby receiving line.
Threatened, really? I don’t think so.
Back in 1951, Boswell, a 17-year-old white girl, had Matt Ingram thrown in jail for something akin to what Brewer claims the president did. Boswell complained the 44-year-old black farmer looked at her in a frightening way. Charged with rape by leer, Ingram was found guilty by an all-white jury that convicted him of looking at Boswell in a way that constituted an assault — even though he never said a word or came within 75 feet of her.
Just as Ingram was jailed for “reckless eyeballing,” Brewer wants us to believe that in her encounter with the president — in which she appeared to do most of the talking — he somehow managed to threaten her. Maybe she was intimidated by his calm demeanor as he voiced his objection to what she wrote in her book about a White House meeting she had with the president last year.
Or maybe she was alarmed by his wry smile as she leaned into him and put her finger in his face. It could be she was frightened by Obama’s decision to walk away from her in mid-sentence as she was giving the president his comeuppance in front of a bank of news photographers?
But I suspect the feisty governor didn’t feel a pang of fear until the picture of her tongue-wagging, finger-shaking assault on the president of the United States was flashed around the world and generated a lot of negative reactions.
What she did on that airport tarmac was by any reasonable standard a gross act of disrespect to the president. But what she said in defense of her bad behavior was even worse. It was a less than subtle appeal to the well-worn racial stereotype of a black man who can assault a white woman with little more than a glance.
And for that Brewer deserves to be called out.