By Peter Grier
WASHINGTON — 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.”
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 starting running too
“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 U.S. 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 web site.
On the other side, those who say the Obama mask clown is part of a
long history of U.S. irreverence towards their chief executives may
feel that Democrats cry “race” to block all criticism of the
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.