Anybody with half a brain should have known it was wrong to put an Obama mask on the face of a rodeo clown Saturday at the Missouri State Fair.
It was wrong for the announcer, a local school superintendent, to rile up the crowd by saying, “We’re gonna stomp Obama now.”
And wrong for him to say, “As soon as their bull comes out, Obama don’t you move. He’s gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha!”
It was wrong for the crowd to go wild.
Perry Beam, a 48-year-old musician who describes himself as an “old country boy,” was appalled by what he saw and blew the lid off this embarrassment by posting about it on Facebook. “One of the clowns ran up and started bobbling the lips on the mask and the crowd went crazy,” Beam wrote, according to his friend, Bob Yates, who reposted the item on a politically liberal Missouri website called Show Me Progress.
"Everybody screamed” and “just went wild” when the rodeo announcer talked about stomping the clown, Beam told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“It was at that point I began to feel a sense of fear,” Beam told the Dispatch. “It was that level of enthusiasm. ... It was cruel. It was disturbing. I am still sick to my stomach over it. ... I’ve never seen anything so blatantly racist in my life.”
Later, in an interview with Missouri TV station KSDK, Beam said the scene was "like an effigy at a Klan rally.”
The condemnations were harsh and swift.
The Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Assn. apologized. The state’s Democratic governor and Republican lieutenant governor condemned the prank. Noting that the state fair is a family event funded by taxpayer dollars, Missouri's Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said young people should not be taught that “it’s ever acceptable to, in a public event, disrespect, taunt and joke about harming the president of our great nation.”
So why did it happen?
Probably for the same reason that a rodeo announcer near San Luis Obispo made a grotesquely racist joke about First Lady Michelle Obama last year.
And probably for the same reason that a medical resident at UCLA thought it would be funny to photoshop the face of a black surgeon onto a gorilla and show the gorilla being sodomized by a white department head. (That antic, by the way, cost UCLA $4.5 million.)
We may have a black president for the first time in our history, but racism in the guise of humor continues to be an undiminished flaw of the American personality.
It would be nice to report that no prominent person defended the blatantly racist disrespect on parade in Missouri over the weekend.
On Monday, the man you might call the head clown for racist humor in America put the blame for the Missouri embarrassment squarely at the president’s feet because the president had the audacity to discuss serious issues of foreign policy when he appeared with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” last week.
“When the president of the United States more often than not connects with the American people on late-night comedy shows,” opined Rush Limbaugh on Monday morning, “what else can happen other than the diminishing of the office?”
Oh please. For decades, American politicians (John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, John McCain) have appeared on comedy shows. Far from diminishing the offices they hold or to which they aspire, they demonstrate -- or try to anyway -- that they are normal human beings, that humor can co-exist with the serious business of governing.
Presidents diminish their offices in many ways (see some of the names above). But appearing on television is not one of them.
And to link the disgusting spectacle at the Missouri State Fair to an innocuous Obama appearance on "The Tonight Show" is clownish at best.
[For the Record, 2:59 p.m. PDT Aug. 12: An earlier version of this online post incorrectly stated that Missouri's governor is a Republican. He is a Democrat.]
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