Last week a great crisis began to unfold in these United States. A crisis so severe and so threatening to our way of life that politicians from both sides put aside their differences and joined together to resolve it. This was no trifling matter like the national debt, or the US’s stand off with Russia, this was much more important. Last week, in a moment of sheer horror, a rodeo clown cruelly mocked the President Obama.

My first reaction to this great outrage (well, that is after a good laugh) was: who cares?

It seemed to me to be nothing new at all. Politicians are routinely mocked, often in very crass and offensive ways, as they always have been and, if healthy political dissent is to continue, always will be. Nobody seemed to mind when a clown wearing a George H.W. Bush mask was gored 1994. His son, George W. Bush was mocked, often very offensively, as well, with a likeness of his severed head appearing in the first season of Game of Thrones, to say nothing of the relentless comparisons to Adolf Hilter and even a movie about the fictional assassination of the erstwhile president. Politics is an ugly business. What happened at the state fair didn’t strike me as that noteworthy, or even unusual at all.

Boy was I wrong.

Both republicans and democrats have condemned this act of Lèse-majesté. The guilty clown has been banned for life from the state fair, and all clowns in it forced to undergo “sensitivity training.” The NAACP even went so far as to call on the DOJ and the Secret Service to investigate the rodeo clown. All this despite the apologies the fair, the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and the clown himself. The uproar has served to shore up a news cycle softened by the August recess and by the president’s fourth vacation this year. We are given respite through misdirection away from concerns for embassies destroyed or evacuated in the face of filmmakers and an Al-Qaeda on the run.  This week’s set of the never ending road bumps in the implementation of Obamacare can be forgotten for the moment.

Many commentators have suggested that this childish mockery of the president had a racial component (Here’s the actual video).  A cynical analysis of the state fair controversy might be that it serves the the greater narrative being pushed by the media, democrats and the leftist intelligentsia: that traditionally conservative rural communities, where people “cling to their guns and religion” are dangerously racist. Saint Louis University political science professor Ken Warren is a local proponent of this view. To quote him “[The rodeo clown performance] means that rural Missouri still embodies some racism.” In 2008 he suggested that Obama did not win in Missouri because of his race, saying “In rural areas, if Obama was a white guy, as strong as he was, he would have gotten more of the vote, and he would have won Missouri.” That may or may not be true, but what is true is that this narrative does a great job at politically marginalizing Midwestern red states like Missouri, making them an example of American backwardness to hold in comparison to the more forward thinking blue states. States like California, where last fall a rodeo clown joked about Michelle Obama posing nude for National Geographic, a flagrantly racist statement that garnered nowhere near the level of attention that Missouri’s clown did. It wouldn’t do to have people thinking that racism existed in the great liberal fortress of California. Racism is only for red states. The story is especially useful given the heated debate about immigration reform. By demonstrating that racism is rampant in the United States, it becomes more feasible to make the case that opponents to immigration reform might be motivated by racial hatred.

There 314 million people in the United States and all of them are allowed to express political dissent. As long as that remains the case some will choose to do so offensively. President Obama is the elected leader of free country not a king. If Bush era liberals are to be believed, dissent, even when it is crass and disrespectful, is the highest form of patriotism.

Will McMahon | University of Missouri at Columbia |