Hysterical vs. historical

Rodeo clown's tasteless antics test our commitment to freedom

There was quite a stampede of critics when a rodeo clown in Missouri recently wore a President Obama mask.

The herd is still on the move, too: The state’s NAACP wants the fellow, who’s already been banned for life by the Missouri State Fair, investigated by the federal government. For what, it’s unclear. The fair was also reportedly considering action against the state’s Rodeo Cowboy Association.

Having a rodeo clown wear a mask of the president was not the best idea. It’s one thing for a spectator to don one, but it takes on more overtly political tones when a performer does it. And it gives an air of institutional backing.

And let’s be honest: If they’d done the same thing with President George W. Bush – and some folks did a lot worse than that – the outcry would have been miniscule. This is different. With Mr. Obama being the first president of African ancestry, such shenanigans are an infinitely more sensitive issue.

Yet, part of assuming power, particularly in this country, is exposing oneself to ridicule and parody. Since the 1970s, every president has been skewered unmercifully on such television programs as Saturday Night Live. It’s a beloved national tradition, and Mr. Obama’s fate has been little different (though arguably, his treatment has likely been better than his predecessors’).

When it comes to mocking our presidents, this certainly isn’t the country’s first rodeo. Editorial cartoonists took aim at our earliest leaders, and have never stopped. They openly made fun of allegations that Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate child. The list of satire’s stooges is long and storied.

And not just in this country. Leaders have been pilloried throughout history. Despite a post-revolution air of freedom, 19th-century French artist and satirist Honoré Daumier was actually put in prison and confined in an asylum for his work, particularly his pointed caricatures of the king.

It would seem that in 21st-century America, some would consign the politically incorrect to the same fate. Long live the king.

The soft, sophisticated equivalent of the bastille, of course, is societal shunning and the ever-present “sensitivity training” – which, notably, the Missouri State Fair has announced will now be required of all rodeo clowns and even cowboys going forward. Notwithstanding the fact that, were cowboys all that sensitive, there would be no rodeo to begin with. As for clowns, they no doubt will be infinitely less entertaining while performing on eggshells.

Sensitivity training has already been taken to the absurd: A teacher in Portland, Maine, recently suggested to students that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be offensive to people of other cultures.

If we are dismayed by all this, we’re likewise disappointed in the White House’s response to the infamous rodeo incident – Mr. Obama’s spokesman observing unhelpfully that, “It was certainly not one of the finer moments” for Missouri.

Granted. But how about some leadership? How about some above-it-all magnanimity? Why not laugh it off as typical presidential lampoonery? Why not take the high road, deserved or not, and dismiss race as a factor in the incident? The president could have taken the opportunity to extinguish a totally unnecessary, trivial and likely bogus racial fire. Instead, the White House has let it burn on.

The result: Some are encouraged to want to lop off a head or two.

We don’t endorse being disrespectful toward this or any other president.

But neither do we want it outlawed.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon