Clowns are supposed to be funny, irreverent and mocking of authority. They live by the philosophy expressed by the fictional Chuckles the Clown from the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show” — “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”
Clowns were never intended to be arbiters of good taste — until now, in today’s humorless, joyless America, where every incident, however minor, is sure to offend someone.
The most ridiculous story of the year — perhaps of the past several years — erupted last week when a rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair dared to ply his trade wearing a rubber mask of President Obama.
Let the Festival of Grievance begin!
Democrats in Missouri and, indeed, across the country, exploded in self-righteous fury at the insult to the president. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill issued a statement of outrage that typified the reaction to the Obama-mocking clown.
“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,” McCaskill said. “Missouri is better than this and I expect someone to be held accountable.”
Others called the incident “racist” and “degrading.” Some Missouri Republicans joined in condemning the performance.
To be sure, the performance of rodeo clown Tuffy Gessling and his supporting cast was tasteless. Gessling, who says he did the announcing while an unnamed colleague wore the Obama get-up, can be heard over the public address system saying, “I know I’m a clown; he’s just running around acting like one.” He can also be heard warning the Obama clown that the next bull was “gonna getcha!”
Gessling has been banned for life from performing at the state fair. Other performers at the rodeo have been ordered to take sensitivity training. Another rodeo announcer, Mark Ficken, resigned Monday as president of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association, a position to which he had been elected just two days previously.
But the reaction goes well beyond a mere clown purge. The Missouri branch of the NAACP has called for a federal investigation into the incident.
“I think that a hate crime occurred,” Missouri NAACP chapter President Mary Ratliff told KXNT Radio in Las Vegas. ”I think a hate crime occurs when you use a person’s race to depict who they are and to make degrading comments, gestures, et cetera, against them.”
It’s telling that the bulk of the outrage directed against the rodeo clown is coming from Democrats, whose fellow travelers mocked President George W. Bush mercilessly throughout his term in office. Bush was depicted as a chimp, as a murderer, as Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler — but this was when we were told “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Now, even gentle mockery is considered a “hate crime.”
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh compared the outrage to the Muslim fundamentalist reaction to the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. It’s an apt analogy.
Masks depicting presidents have been popular joke items at least since the days of Richard Nixon. Obama himself wore an Obama mask during the campaign in a 2007 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
The level of anger directed at a rodeo clown for an admittedly tasteless performance is ludicrous.
Congressman Steve Stockman, R-Texas, expressed the silliness of it all on Twitter.
“If you’re demanding a rodeo jester be thrown in the dungeons for mocking the king, don’t pretend you support a free country,” he wrote.