On Clowns, Presidents, & the First Amendment

I always prefer to write about truly significant events or great insights offered by the wisest people. Then there are days that simply dictate what needs to be written, whether significant or not. This is one of those days.

I have a difficult time believing I have to comment on what a rodeo clown did last week, but the story refuses to die. You probably already know what happened, but for the few who live in a monastery somewhere carefully crafting illuminated manuscripts, let me get you up to speed. The gist of it: a rodeo clown wore an Obama mask; the announcer said something about how real clowns know they are clowns but Obama doesn’t realize his status as a clown; then a comment was made about the bull possibly running over the clown, who was there of course to distract the bull away from a thrown rider.

That’s the entire story. Well, it should have been. But now all the perpetually outraged amongst us are at it again. It’s okay, in their view, to ridicule the King of Kings who reigns forever, but one must never do so to The One who now reigns temporarily in one country, and who will be retired to the realm of private citizen after the next election. It’s just fine to take the name of the Lord of Lords in vain, but no one may dare mock a mere human who himself shows disdain for that Lord of Lords. The outrage is disproportional, but it does clarify the worldview of those so outraged:


Before I go any further, let me assure everyone that I think the rodeo’s attempt at humor was rather tawdry, and that it never should have happened. Yet, in our society, at our current stage of devolution, even a stupid action leads to calls for “justice.” The clown involved has been banned from future Missouri rodeos, all the clowns are now subject to sensitivity training, and the NAACP, convinced that racism is behind this action [well, the NAACP is convinced racism is behind nearly everything], is demanding that both the Secret Service and the DOJ carry out further investigations. Such actions should not permitted in America without severe penalties, they seem to think:

Hate Crime Division

Let’s just reflect for a moment on how previous presidents have been treated. During the Vietnam War, LBJ and Nixon were castigated in public in every protest and demonstration. Protesters wore masks with the presidents’ faces on them, and many screamed for their heads, quite literally. While I don’t condone language that might set someone off and lead to violence, if the government had decided at that time to jail every protester and fill the courts with trials, the legal system would have ground to a halt. Some actions are sinful, but not unlawful. Some actions are distasteful and ugly, but not necessarily subject to legal redress.

The same could be said of how protesters treated Ronald Reagan during his presidency. Reagan masks were everywhere, depicting the president as an evil, cruel warmonger. No one was indicted for doing so. And then there’s George W. Bush. Anyone remember this image of him that was going around?


Should someone be prosecuted for that? Apparently Bush didn’t think so. The Justice Department wasn’t unleashed on those who promoted the image. Here’s an apt comparison:

 Let Me Be Clear

How has Barack Obama responded to his followers’ calls for justice? He’s silent, as usual, when it comes to soothing the outrage. Peggy Noonan made an astute observations the other day that is worth quoting. She said,

Let me suggest a classy Obama move that might go over well. From his Vineyard vacation spot he should have the press office issue a release saying his reaction to finding out a rodeo clown was rudely spoofing him, was, “So what?” Say he loves free speech, including inevitably derision directed at him, and he does not wish for the Missouri state fair to fire the guy, and hopes those politicians (unctuously, excessively, embarrassingly) damning the clown and the crowd would pipe down and relax. This would be graceful and nice, wouldn’t it?

Noonan, however, doesn’t stop there because she has seen this president in action for nearly five years. She continues,

He would never do it. He gives every sign of being a person who really believes he shouldn’t be made fun of, and if he is it’s probably racially toned, because why else would you make fun of him?

 It’s not good to have developed that kind of reputation. One cartoonist, by the way, in commenting on President Obama’s penchant for classy vacations, has an idea that he thinks would help the country:

Keep America Strong

Well, he’s probably just a racist and should be prosecuted for airing his view. Now that I’ve shared his view, should I be subject to prosecution also? Where are we headed as a country? What is the future of the First Amendment? There are many indications we’re not as free to speak openly as we used to be.