Last Saturday at the Missouri State Fair—a state funded, family-oriented, purportedly non-political event—an unexpected guest was invited into the rodeo rink. Once the grounds had been cleared, the announcer, then-Cowboy Association President Mark Ficken, introduced “President Obama:” a rodeo clown wearing a mask of his likeness, parading around like a living parody.
Mr. Ficken went on to taunt the city slicker “President” with these words:
“We’re gonna stomp Obama now…as soon as their bull comes out, Obama don’t you move. He’s gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha!”
This elicited cheers and jeers from the rabid rodeo spectators, looking for blood.
This disturbing, overtly violent, and racially charged event made shock waves over internet this weekend. Many found the lampooning of the Commander in Chief unacceptable and both the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association and the state of Missouri have issued apologies. But the issue has deeper roots that can’t be swept away easily.
Read any Tea Party propaganda and you will see that white conservatives in this country are good and terrified of the “change” they’ve seen in the last five years, and so they have resorted to the tactics of last resort: derogatory language and offensively crass behavior.
Conservatism is on the ropes, so they use every occasion to make a “fool” out of the object of their distress: our first non-white President. It’s the only way for them to still feel empowered. There has long been an idea circulating since they did not vote for him, he must have won the office by illegitimate means (as in “where’s the birth certificate?”); therefore, he’s undeserving of the Office of the President and the slightest modicum of respect.
It is easy for the purveyors of doom and gloom to whip their audience into a racially-charged frenzy. The rodeo announcer did an excellent job of this, getting the crowd screaming and cheering at the thought of President Obama getting gored by a one-ton animal. We as a people should be worried about the crowd’s visceral reaction of expressing obvious glee at the idea of our president and commander in mortal danger.
The king of conservative spin, Rush Limbaugh, championed the event and the clown himself by saying that Obama is the one to blame here (seems like Limbaugh has a tendency to blame the victim, huh?). He argued that because the president uses new platforms such as YouTube, twitter, and late night talk shows to reach the masses (rather than more traditional methods like televised addresses or formal dinners with very expensive plating fees) that he should have expected to be viewed as a joke. According to Limbaugh, the President had it coming.
This is not the first time conservatives have used violent language as part of their modus operandi. Our entire political lexicon is full of violent and aggressive language: battleground states, job killing, and taking out your opponents to name a few. But the talk has moved outside the realm of the abstract and directly into the lives of candidates and elected officials. Being comfortable talking about any of these individuals in dangerously suggestive ways is indicative of a culture of violence in a much broader sense. It exposes a culture that could accept things like this rodeo spectacle or Sarah Palin’s “targeted districts” media blitz in 2010. It moves beyond dislike to blatant disrespect. Although it might seem acceptable because it has become commonplace, it is important to realize that our political system does not have to operate under the control of masked leaders and their angry mob.