I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to write about this.
Unfortunately, the saga of the Obama-mocking rodeo clown has, against my fervent hopes, turned into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The diagnosis was complete once the Missouri chapter of the NAACP decided to disgrace itself, its parent organization’s mission and its supposed dedication to civil rights by calling for a Secret Service investigation into the incident, which Ken White posted on definitively here.
The Horror: someone mocked the President! And because this President is black, and because his supporters have continually tried to use his pigmentation (which should have no impact whatsoever on how he is treated, respected and judged, which is to say, like every other President) to shield him from unrestrained criticism, opposition, responsibility, accountability and satire, a crude comedy act in a setting where crude comedy is the norm (a rodeo is hardly the Algonquin Round Table) has been turned into a full-fledged exercise in chilling political speech by intimidation.
While George W. Bush was president, Will Farrell portrayed him regularly as a moron, at one point lying on his back playing with a ball of yarn like a kitten while Dick Cheney ran the country. When Gerald Ford was in the White House, the same show, under the stewardship of Chevy Chase, weekly presented that President as a bumbling, incompetent fool, falling down stairs and routinely injuring himself while the audience howled. In our nation’s capital, at every home game of the local major league baseball team, a laughing crowd is treated to the spectacle of four actors wearing big-headed costumes portraying four of our greatest Presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt)—plus William Howard Taft, added this year—racing each other like, well, in Milwaukee it’s sausages, while they fall over, trip each other, and generally act like a clown act, which, in fact, they are. (Here, you can see them being menaced by, yes, “Sharknado“…)
Oddly, nobody has objected, despite the fact that at least four of the five were great, great leaders to whom the nation owes much, and the fifth was a lifetime public servant who moved from the White House to the Supreme Court, where he served as Chief Justice. Yet because a humble rodeo clown got a laugh from a Missouri crowd by mocking the current successor to these men, he has lost his livelihood, the head of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association has resigned in fear that somehow he will find himself on the Obama Re-education Brigade’s vengeance list, and now the NAACP has two unconscionable persecutions that it is demanding, counting its call for the Justice Department to bring civil rights violation charges against George Zimmerman, because he’s a “white Hispanic,” the only part of the case that he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin that is accompanied by actual evidence.
Would the organization think its call to the Secret Service was appropriate if the rodeo clown was himself an African American? I wonder.
No actually, I don’t.
Wall Street Journal blogger Peggy Noonan correctly points out how President Obama, who supposedly likes “teachable moments” and who has a penchant for injecting himself in what should be local matters, should handle this expanding mess in which he, not by any direct action of his own, is already a central figure:
“From his Vineyard vacation spot he should have the press office issue a release saying his reaction to finding out a rodeo clown was rudely spoofing him, was, “So what?” Say he loves free speech, including inevitably derision directed at him, and he does not wish for the Missouri state fair to fire the guy, and hopes those politicians (unctuously, excessively, embarrassingly) damning the clown and the crowd would pipe down and relax.”
Of course that’s what he should do. That’s what a leader determined to bring the country together would do, what a President who understands his office would do. Obama won’t do it, though. It would mean reprimanding his “base” supporters when they are dead, dead wrong; it would be ungrateful, it would be passing up yet another chance to bolster the narrative that his administration’s problems are all due to racism. It would also be the best possible thing for a nation wondering whether the United States still believes in free speech.
Not that taking Noonan’s advice would end the ethics train wreck…oh nooooo! If Obama did the responsible and statesmanlike thing, I guarantee that pundits on the right, probably led by Rush Limbaugh, would then claim that the whole episode was planned by Obama’s minions to give him a “Sister Souljah” moment, and that nobody should believe for an instant that the President really believes that he should be spoofed. This is the poisonous environment that the President, the Democrats, the Republicans, the media and the pundits have created over the past five years.
This is why, in the United States in 2013, a rodeo clown donning a rubber mask of Barack Obama starts an ethics train wreck.