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WATCH: Is this rodeo clown in an Obama mask racist?
The announcer asked the Missouri crowd if it wanted to see the president run over by a bull. Things went downhill from there.

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.

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.

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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