“Humorists have been scared out of the business by the touchiness now prevailing in every section of the community. Wherever you look, on every shoulder there is a chip, in every eye a cold glitter warning you, if you know what is good for you, not to start anything.”
—P.G. Wodehouse, 1956
I just saw this Wodehouse quote today (Pointer: Jay Nordlinger on Instapundit), and sure enough, a joke controversy came in through the bathroom window.
The Texas Tribune Festival, an annual gathering of political and media figures in Austin, included a panel on urban activism. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt complained that the Republicans running the state government opposed any measure on the environment—even, she said, local tree ordinances. Then springing the punch-line following her own set-up, she said, “Governor Abbott hates trees because one fell on him.”
The overwhelmingly Democratic crowd laughed. I did not know, but apparently Texans do, that at 24 Abbot was paralyzed from the waist down , when a tree blew over on him while he was jogging on a windy day in Houston in 1984.
Predictably, however, there was at least one person who witnessed this who was not amused. John Daniel Davidson, the Political Editor at The Federalist, was on hand, and tweeted the line and the identity of its creator out to his followers. Some Texas legislators and publications picked up on it, Judge Eckhardt was contacted and asked about its appropriateness, and soon she was issuing an apology,…
As usual in such episodes, the apology was not enough. The Texas Tribune piled on, writing about the comment and adding details about Abbott’s accident. Its conservative readers unanimous condemned the judge, variously calling her apology insincere, vicious, cruel, and mandating her resignation. The attendees who laughed were pronounced equally detestable. The Tribune quoted Travis County Republican Chairman Matt Mackowiak , who went full “How dare you?”:
“Judge Eckhardt apparently believes that his disability is open to ridicule if it helps her make a political argument. This joke represents a profound lack of compassion from Judge Eckhardt. There is no place for insulting Americans with disabilities and Judge Eckhardt should know better.”