It is generally my practice not to write of politics or politicians in this columnn, as I consider the activity to be the equivalent of raking leaves during a wind storm. You end up expending a great deal of energy, accomplishing absolutely nothing, while confirming the suspicions of your enemies and diminishing your standing amongst your friends. No, there is no percentage in the practice so I will refrain. However….
Last month, Missouri became the focus of all political media for a week as a result of the State Fair Rodeo. The incident in question involved a rubber face mask of President Obama, a dummy and a bull. Now frankly, I was quite surprised that the professional hand wringers over all things political were so upset by this schtick. Given the common terminology assigned to their musings (phonetic alphabet Bravo Sierre) you would think that they are fully acquainted with the source of their raw material. Apparently a lot of people have no idea that a bull is the source of, wait, this is a family news paper so I can’t write that.
As a result of placing a rubber mask on a dummy and encouraging the bull to run over said dummy, a Rodeo Clown has been barred for life from the State Fair and the announcer has found his day job to be at risk. The argument being advanced by the pundits is that the performance in the rodeo arena was tantamount to inciting a riot or seeking to do harm to President Obama. Really?
One argument I heard opined that since the State of Missouri supports and endorses the State Fair it is an inappropriate venue for such offensive humor. By that logic the State of Missouri can censor the content of Bill Board Advertising since the State Highway Department mows the Right-of-Ways to maintain the line of sight.
Rodeo is the nexus of Sport and Entertainment. The rodeo clown’s first job is to protect the cowboy from the bull with a secondary duty towards entertaining the crowd. This particular schtick has featured politicians of both parties.
OK class, Pop Quiz, who were Tom and Richard Smothers? Anybody? Ah yes, back of the room that is correct. Tom and Richard Smothers were a comedy duo act that began performing in 1959. In 1961 they were featured on The Jack Paar Show and they continued to refine their act in various venues until February of 1967 when CBS began to broadcast The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The show ran for just over two years when at the height of their popularity in June of 1969 CBS cancelled the show. Apparently the recently elected President, Richard M. Nixon, was not a fan of their edgy comedy; especially when it focused the policies that he initiated. That was 44 years ago, and frankly the humor that was portrayed on that show is quaint by today’s standards.
Entertainers never satirize or lampoon a sitting President, right? Oh ok, Rich Little did build his career with vocal impersonations of President Nixon, but that’s so far from placing a rubber mask on a dummy and it’s just one example. Oh alright, there is also Chevy Chase’s portrayal of Gerald Ford as a bumbling uncoordinated buffoon who couldn’t walk across the Oval Office without falling down. Well yes there was also Dan Ackroyd who portrayed Jimmy Carter as a hayseed mamma’s boy routinely embarrassed by a buffoon of a brother. Of course the pundits and entertainers were entirely respectful of Ronald Reagan aside from the portrayals of his character as a trigger happy cowboy, amiable dunce, or evil un-caring monster. Not to mention Dana Carvey’s send-offs of George H.W. Bush and really there is no reason to go into a long discussion of the satire’s endured by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush as both are recent enough to be found on youtube if you have forgotten what it was like.
What’s that? You say that none of those examples elicited violence against a sitting President like the rodeo clown encouraging the bull to stampede. Well then let us discuss George W. Bush, since memories seem rather thin. In 2006 a film titled Death of a President was released at the Toronto Film Festival. The premise of this mockumentary was the assassination of George W. Bush. While the film was panned by Republican politicians and pundits, it received critical praise from the industry including critics like Rex Reed of the New York Observer. Interestingly Hillary Clinton, then the Junior Senator from New York opined that the film was “despicable” describing the plot as “a horrible scenario”.
Now color me incredulous, but I don’t observe parity between a straw stuffed dummy wearing a rubber mask being stampeded by a bull in an arena and a film with actors depicting the assassination of a sitting President.
This controversy is borne of political correctness, a wonderful term of art that when distilled to its base constitutes censorship. The beauty of the First Amendment is that it allows citizens to hold their elected officials accountable. Harsh political speech has existed since this country was founded, and it is applicable to both parties. Try this little experiment over the next year. Go to Springfield, Illinois and tour the Lincoln Presidential Library and then go to Independence, Missouri and tour the Truman Presidential Library. In each venue you will find a display of political cartoons that each President endured while in office. Now, after considering what made it into print in those times, can you imagine the conversations that were being had amongst friends?
Not all messages are delivered in good taste; sometimes the message is quite raw. Whether the patrons at that Rodeo are supporters or opponents of President Obama’s Administration is immaterial as evidenced by their conduct after the event. In the month since that incident, nobody has attempted to run a rodeo bull through the Oval Office. But the pundits who railed against a clown and announcer have inflicted damage to our civic culture as concern for feelings trumps all other issues.
John Armstrong is a Vice President with Peoples Bank & Trust Company in Elsberry.
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