Send in the Clowns

These are the dog days of summer, although you’d never know it from the constant rain and unseasonably cool temperatures we’ve been having around here. The only indication we are actually in the lazy, hazy days of summer is that the big story of the slow news cycle is about a rodeo clown in Sedalia, Missouri.
In case you’ve been taking a well-deserved vacation from the news, the aforementioned rodeo clown found himself in the middle of a full-blown media storm after he donned a rubber mask resembling President Barack Obama and regaled an audience at the Missouri state fair by allowing a rampaging bull to chase him around the arena. The presumably rural audience of Show-Me Staters was mostly delighted by the spectacle, judging from the inevitable grainy cell phone video of the incident that has become an internet sensation, but of course the more sophisticated observers have not been amused. So much outrage has been mustered from the respectable corners of society that the rodeo clown has been forever banned from the Missouri state fair, an announcer who acted as an accomplice has been forced to resign from his presidency of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association, Missouri’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling for a federal investigation, and state fair officials are promising that all future rodeo clowns at their events will be required to complete sensitivity training.
The rodeo clown’s shtick doesn’t strike us as especially astute satire, but we don’t expect rodeo clowns to be Jonathan Swift and the reaction to his antics seems disturbingly inordinate. Similar acts of disrespect toward presidents are a long tolerated tradition in America, and were even celebrated in the respectable corners of society as recently as the last administration. Mocking effigies of President George W. Bush was de rigueur during his two terms to an extent that even rodeo clowns were getting in on the craze, and it’s surprising their efforts weren’t praised as a performance art and honored with a federal grant. It was silly and slightly annoying then, as it is to a lesser degree now, but it didn’t constitute a threat to the public welfare.
What is threatening, on the other hand, is the heavy-handed effort to punish constitutionally protected criticism of the president. When a rodeo clown is summarily denied Pronto Pups and deep-fried Twinkies and other attractions of a state fair, and such supposedly independent sorts as rodeo cowboys feel obliged to oust their elected leader in the name of proper political etiquette, and the NAACP is threatening to literally make a federal case of such a harmless act of lése majesté, the chilling effect on other critics is unmistakable. It’s not as if the Internal Revenue Service were using its awesome powers to stifle dissent, or impertinent journalists were being treated as criminal conspirators by the Department of Justice, or a contributor to the opposition party were being harassed by a variety of federal agencies, but at a time when all those things are also happening it creates an unhappy feeling of enforced conformity. When rodeo clowns are being subjected to “sensitivity training,” which is a modern euphemism for re-education, there’s something almost Soviet about it.
One can still hope that the effort will prove futile, though, and perhaps even counterproductive. Respect for the presidency cannot be enforced, and such bullying attempts to do will likely only provoke further mockery. After his initial defiance, telling reporters that “At least I know I’m a clown,” the performer has since recanted his act with the zeal of a cowed dissident standing before one of Mao’s cadres to confess his political sins, but others are bound to don his rubber mask and take his place.

— Bud Norman

How to Handle a Woman

New York City’s municipal election isn’t the only naughty sex comedy on the political stage. Out in San Diego the mayor seems determined to demonstrate that the politicians on west coast can be just as tawdry as those back east.
Mayor Bob Filner has made comments to countless women that are so far beyond even contemporary standards of public decorum that feminists such as attorney Gloria Allred are calling for his resignation, which takes some doing some considering that Filner is a Democrat. Anthony Weiner, who resigned from his congressional seat after lewd photos of himself that he had sent to various surfaced and is now being pressed to resign from New York City’s mayoral race because he kept sending even lewder photos after his resignation, and Elliott Spitzer, who was forced to resign from New York’s governorship because of his penchant for prostitutes but somehow still leads in the race for New York City comptroller, are also Democrats.
We mention these men’s party affiliation not because Republicans would never engage in such crude behavior, but rather because it is always so prominently mentioned in media reports when they do. Weiner’s unfortunate name and the high office he seeks have combined to force more media coverage that his deeds would ordinarily merit, but Spitzer’s whore-mongering past has gone largely unremarked, and there’s a suspicion that Filner’s misdeeds have been getting attention because San Diego is one of the last bastions of California Republicanism, but in none of these cases have the media been quite so gleefully outraged as they surely would be if it they were all in on a Grand Old Party. There’s certainly been no attempt to tie the scandals together into proof of some party-wide pathology, which would surely be the case if they were Republicans.
Several journalists of our acquaintance freely admit the double standard but contend that it is proper, explaining that Republicans deserve the extra scrutiny and scorn because their party presents itself as the defenders of old-fashioned “family values.” Why the Democrats should enjoy a get-out-of-scandal card because they don’t even pretend to have any standards of personal behavior is never made clear, but in any case the argument has long outlived any truth it might have. Republicans rarely push the “family values” slogan these days, being more concerned with keeping the country from insolvency and other economic concerns, while the Democrats consistently accuse their opponents of misogyny and tout themselves as the defenders of womanhood.
Such hypocrisy is more galling than that of the misbehaving Republicans. the most Bible-thumping politician who gets caught with his pants down isn’t trying to make religion compulsory, but the silly sensitivity-training workshops that the average private sector worker endures and the civil liability laws that inspired them have been imposed by the Democratic party with the force of government. These laws and the new rules of sexless behavior have done some good, and the officious way they are often enforced has done some harm, but certainly the political that is responsible should be held to the same rules.
Those rules were dispensed with entirely for the benefit of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and assorted other sexual miscreants whose stands on behalf of women’s rights were said to justify their behavior, so the occasional Democratic criticisms of Filner, Weiner, and Spitzer represent a welcome development. More pushback will be needed, though, if the Democrats want to revive their campaign theme of Republican “war on women” without looking ridiculous.

— Bud Norman