It’s time to stop picking on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer for her poor performance in a September 2 televised debate.
Sure, she started to give her opening statement, went blank, and didn’t say anything for a 16 seconds. And she never fully recovered after that.
But, her performance was not the worst in the history of political debates – not even in recent history. That title is held by former President George W. Bush, in the first presidential debate in the 2004 election.
Brewer was merely silent for 16 seconds. Bush stammered for ninety minutes, unable to speak on any topic for more than 30 seconds or 40 seconds. It remains one of the most embarrassing political performances ever – even worst than Brewer’s
Further, Brewer’s poor performance doesn’t have to cost her the election. Bush recovered later in the campaign and defeated Democrat John Kerry despite his dismal debate performance. Brewer is also likely to win anyway, considering her popular in the state after signing a tough law that goes after the state’s illegal immigrants.
So cut the lady some slack. It was her first major debate, she was probably nervous, and she is embarrassed enough without the national press and YouTube voyeurs replaying the scene endlessly.
Remember, she’s never faced this type of scrutiny or pressure before. After all, Brewer slipped into the governor’s chair without ever having run for the position.
In January 2009, Brewer was Secretary of State in Arizona when President Barack Obama appointed then governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. Under Arizona law, Brewer was the successor, and she moved into the governor’s chair with no training and little experience for the job.
So, give her a break on the debate. But that doesn’t mean she should get off free. Instead, there are two other things that warrant more scrutiny: (1) her refusal to participate in another debate and (2) her refusal to answer, or even address, tough questions about what she says.
After the embarrassing performance on statewide television (which is now available to the nation via YouTube), Brewer soon announced that she will not participate in anymore debates. That’s a mistake.
One reason that Bush went on to beat Kerry in ’04 is that Bush returned to the debate forum. His performance in the second face-off against Kerry was commendable and eased concerns about his previous weak performance. Governor Brewer needs to show her voters that she can face the music too, if she has any hopes of erasing memories of that YouTube moment.
Even more importantly, there’s a limit on how many times she can duck questions. In fact, her biggest blunder at the debate may have come in post-debate interviews, not in the debate itself.
The question that stumped her was one from the press about her claim that headless bodies were turning up in the Arizona desert. That point had been a key piece of rhetoric in her anti-immigration campaign.
Turns out that the information simply wasn’t true, a point that she eventually acknowledged. Regardless, in the aftermath of the debate, she simply remained silent on the subject and, when pressed by reporters for an explanation, she turned and left without answering their questions. That’s the type of behavior that will get the press riled up.
It appears she knows how to use anti-immigration rhetoric, but can she handle tough questions about her policies and messages In other words, we know she can rev up the rhetoric. Can she also handle pressure?
If she continues to dodge reporters’ questions, the public will assume the worst.
If she wants a future in politics, she needs to return to the playing field. Politics is not a game you win by sitting on the sidelines.