Washington's bitter partisan politics surfaced over the weekend in an unlikely place — a Missouri State Fair rodeo. A clown at the event donned a President Obama mask and stood in front of the chute during the bull-riding competition. The announcer asked members of the audience if they wanted to see "Obama run down by a bull," and many people in the crowd roared in approval.
A video of the stunt posted online touched off criticism from politicians on the left and the right, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican.
The @MoStateFair celebrates Missouri and our people. I condemn the actions disrespectful to POTUS the other night. We are better than this.— Peter Kinder (@PeterKinder) August 11, 2013
Some critics went further, saying the display was overtly racist and that those involved should be punished.
At one point, another clown ran up and bobbled the lips of the Obama mask, winning applause from some of the fans. "It was sickening," said Perry Beam, a 48-year-old musician who attended the rodeo with his wife and a student they were hosting from Taiwan. "It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you'd see on TV."
For obvious reasons, many commentators argue that the rodeo shenanigans went too far. Yael T. Abouhalkah at the Kansas City Star says the rodeo clown's antics went beyond a mere show of disrespect to the president. "It's also borderline illegal," he says. "The U.S. Secret Service takes threats against the president seriously. While the president himself was in no danger here, it's the kind of stupid activity that could give nuts ideas about harming the president."
Of course, George W. Bush was the target of plenty of ridicule when he was president, and a clown at a Texas rodeo once led a bull to trample a dummy wearing a mask of Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush. Dana Loesch at Red State argues that at the time, these Bush jokes were treated as constitutionally protected free speech, not calls to violence. The only thing the Missouri clown did wrong, Loesch says, is he broke liberals' "new golden rule: thou shalt not mock the president."
If there is evidence to justify the claim of violent threats that haven't been reported, by all means, investigate. However, if this is an attempt to criminalize ridicule of political figures by way of identity politics, then no one can ridicule. Everyone is something and speech will cease to be free. [RedState]
The First Amendment argument doesn't impress critics of the clown, identified by a local political blog, PoliticMo, as Mark Ficken, president of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association and Boonville school superintendent. Belle Waring notes at Crooked Timber that the Fair got $400,000 from the state to hold the event. "This was not a private racist rodeo," Waring says.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- 22 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- Why is American internet so slow?
- The new bride who had a horrifying allergic reaction to her husband's sperm
5 surprising facts about left-handed people
Subscribe to the Week