A clown wearing a President Obama mask got a big reception at a Missouri State Fair rodeo over the weekend. According to The Associated Press, most of the crowd clapped and cheered when the announcer asked if they wanted to see “Obama run down by a bull."
The Missouri State Fair says it has banned the unnamed rodeo clown from ever performing at the fair again.
One fairgoer who was not happy about the performance, Perry Beam, told the AP that everybody “just went wild” when the masked clown appeared, and that he began to feel “a sense of fear” for himself, his wife, and a Taiwanese student that they had brought to the performance.
Another clown ran up to the clown wearing the Obama mask, pretended to tickle him, and played with the mask’s lips, according to Mr. Beam. Eventually they had to depart when actual bulls started running too close.
“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening. It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV,” said Beam.
OK, Obama mask plus stomping rodeo bulls. Who thought that equation would equal fun? Not the Missouri State Fair leadership. After the show, they apologized on their Facebook page for what they called an “inappropriate and disrespectful” performance. Not Missouri’s top elected officials. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder condemned the stunt via Twitter. “We are better than this,” he wrote. Democrats Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill also expressed deep displeasure.
Some national conservatives, however, charged that the umbrage was hypocritical, given the popularity of George W. Bush Halloween masks during his presidency. All US chief executives are mocked, wrote Dana Loesch on the right-leaning RedState site.
“Free speech is free speech and isn’t meant to protect only that with which I agree,” wrote Ms. Loesch.
In 1994, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted that a rodeo clown used a George H.W. Bush dummy to distract raging bulls, yet nobody called for a Secret Service investigation, pointed out Loesch.
Of course, it’s the element of race that makes the Obama incident so controversial. Many of those who are outraged by the rodeo clown perhaps see mock violence against the nation’s first African-American president in the context of the nation’s long history of real violence against African-Americans.
“Silence is an inappropriate response to this ‘entertainment’ at an event supported by all Missourians,” wrote Bob Yates on “Show Me Progress," a left-leaning Missouri website.
On the other side, those who say the Obama mask clown is part of a long history of US irreverence toward their chief executives may feel that Democrats cry “race” to block all criticism of the president.
Here’s a third point of view: Maybe mock violence against presidential masks and dummies should be judged a chancy business, whomever the target. There’s been real violence against presidents of both parties, after all. This November will mark 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan was shot 32 years ago. Every president gets a horrendous amount of violent hate mail and threats.
“The young Missourians who witnessed this stunt learned exactly the wrong lesson about political discourse – that somehow it’s ever acceptable to, in a public event, disrespect, taunt, and joke about harming the President of our great nation,” said Senator McCaskill in her statement responding to the incident.