WASHINGTON - It's a photo destined to become an iconic image of Barack Obama's presidency — an angry, Tea Party-backed politician, wagging her finger in the face of the man despised by the movement's "patriots."

The recent tarmac tiff at the Phoenix-Mesa airport between Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer over a passage in her new book is emblematic of the bad blood between left and right since the first black president in American history took office three years ago.

The controversy wasn't showing any signs of dying down on Monday, with Brewer herself fanning the flames and a conservative website digging up old footage of a high-profile journalist jabbing his finger at George W. Bush.

"I really wasn't pointing at him," Brewer wrote in a post on her federal action committee's website before going on to describe how the president walked away from her mid-sentence shortly after he exited Air Force One and got into a tense exchange with her.

"I was telling him: 'You have ONE more year!'"

She added that Obama "needs to be reminded that he is the president of the federal republic and not a king lording over state governors.... We deserve results over rhetoric, but this is a president who had the audacity to sue me and Arizona in my efforts to protect our country from illegal immigration!"

She then asked for donations to her political action committee.

Another Republican politician on the tarmac has disputed Brewer's version of events, however, saying Obama didn't storm off while she was trying to continue their conversation.

In fact, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith told the Talking Points Memo website, the president simply moved along to say hello to other elected officials who were in attendance to welcome him to Arizona, where he was on hand to discuss his job-creation proposals.

Except for Smith's weigh-in, however, reaction to the encounter has fallen along the bitterly partisan lines that have become a national hallmark in recent years, even though Obama himself has laughed off the incident as being "blown out of proportion."

Liberals and Democrats are outraged on Obama's behalf, saying it's yet another example of the unprecedented disrespect routinely shown to the president by the right. Many see racism in the latest diss, pointing in particular to Brewer's insistence she felt "threatened" by the president during their conversation.

"What were you afraid he would do, steal your purse?" retorted Hilary O. Shelton of the NAACP.

Conservatives and Tea Party adherents, meantime, accuse Obama of being thin-skinned and say he deserved to be scolded by Brewer for his administration's response to the state's illegal immigration problem.

Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, leapt to Brewer's defence on Monday, saying the airport encounter "brought back memories" of a similar exchange he had with Obama during the BP oil spill nearly two years ago.

Just as he did with Brewer, Jindal says Obama pulled him aside after exiting Air Force One, angry that the disaster was reflecting so poorly on his administration.

"I was amazed by two things, one that he was mad about the wrong things, and secondly that he was so thin-skinned," Jindal said on Fox News.

"It was clearly a media stunt… I wanted him to be president of the country and come down here and lead and instead he was playing political theatrics."

The fallout from Obama's latest tarmac tiff is still going strong, with online petitions both supporting and denouncing Brewer gaining steam, a Twitter firestorm raging and sales of the governor's book, "Scorpions for Breakfast," increasing dramatically.

"I'm trying to count how many times we've seen someone jam their finger into the face of a U.S. president," someone with the handle "sevenish" tweeted Brewer on Monday.

"So far I'm at one."

The conservative Breitbart website begs to differ. It dug up a clip from 2006 in which NBC's Brian Williams questioned George W. Bush's insistence that he'd recently read a book by French philosopher Albert Camus.

It's a curious counter-argument, however. In the generally friendly exchange, Williams gestures in Bush's general vicinity — not in his face — as he backs up an argument from the president about journalists occasionally getting their facts wrong.

The Obama-Brewer showdown, meantime, has also resulted in the resurrection of past Brewer claims, particularly since Smith emerged to cast doubt on her version of last week's confrontation.

One involves her response to attacks against her in 2010, when she defended her state's harsh new immigration law, the legislation later successfully challenged by the Obama administration. Brewer told reporters she was hurt by the names people were calling her at the time.

"They are awful," she said. "Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that...and then to have them call me Hitler's daughter. It hurts. It's ugliness beyond anything I've ever experienced."

Brewer's father, however, died in California of lung disease in 1955, a decade after the Second World War ended.

Loading...
Latest From ...