'We all know' isn't enough

We all know President Obama was secretly born in Kenya.

And that there will soon be enough Muslims here to take over the country.

And that Presidents Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower collectively deported 15 million illegal aliens.

We all know these things -- if by "we" you mean certain conservative bloggers and the gullible people who believe them and if by "know" you mean "take as gospel, even in the absence of evidence." Otherwise, "we" don't know anything of the sort.

So I am intrigued by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's recent statement: "We all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now becoming drug mules." She was responding to a reporter who had asked her for proof of an earlier statement that most illegal immigrants carry narcotics for drug cartels.

Brewer went on to say, "They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration. ... So they are criminals. They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs."

You'll notice the one thing she didn't do was answer the question. The one thing she didn't do, or even attempt to do, was explain upon what statistics, facts or chain of logic she based her claim.

I will say I have no idea whether that claim is true, though I suspect it's not, given that those on the front lines of the immigration battle -- U.S. Border Patrol agents -- have cast doubt upon it. Mario Escalante, a spokesman for the Border Patrol, told The Associated Press the service could not provide the number of detainees caught carrying drugs, but "I wouldn't say that every person that is apprehended is being used as a mule." T.J. Bonner, speaking for the union that represents the agents, went further, telling CNN Brewer's claim doesn't "comport with reality."

You'd think these men, because of their professional standing, could speak with authority on the matter. You'd think their opinions would carry weight. You'd think that would give pause to the governor's airy, unsubstantiated assertions. You'd be naive.

Indeed, hours after speaking with the reporter, Brewer repeated those assertions in a statement. It is, she said, "common knowledge" that Mexican drug cartels use illegal immigrants to smuggle narcotics.

"Common knowledge," she says. "We all know," she says. Again, note the lack of proof. The statement is quantifiable, yet the governor doesn't bother to quantify. But then, you only quantify for the benefit of the head. You toss the raw, red meat of emotion for the benefit of the heart. In this case, the emotions being appealed to could hardly be clearer: nativism, xenophobia and that old standby, fear.

At the dawn of the Internet, we were promised a Jeffersonian utopia of instantly available information that would make us a wiser, more enlightened citizenry.

Instead, we find ourselves stranded in a Misinformation Age where truth is multiple choice, geared to your political beliefs, and one need never burden one's cherished and preconceived ideas with anything as fusty and outdated as a demand for verification.

But some of us are cantankerous apostles of the old school, some of us reflexively suspicious of appeals to the heart that willfully bypass the head -- especially when made by those in position to make policy and law on the basis of things "we all know." So it seems not a lot to ask that next time Brewer says the majority of illegal immigrants are drug mules, she finally do the one thing she has failed attempts to do: Prove it.

Contact Pitts, a columnist for the Miami Herald, at lpitts@miamiherald.com.