When Race Collides with Political Satire

Posted on August 14, 2013 by


You have probably seen and heard about the poor rodeo clown, now banned from the Missouri state fair. Our clown’s offense? Wearing a President Obama mask and asking the crowd if it wanted to see President Obama get run over by a bull. According to reports, the crowd cheered the question.

I don’t have anything novel to add to this discussion, but ridiculing sitting presidents is as American as the Stars & Stripes. As the video above makes clear, the 1800 presidential election was one of our nastiest. Comedians have lampooned all of the sitting presidents, from Nixon through both Bushes. While the comedy is often flimsy and silly, it is, at heart, an expression of our Freedom of Speech. No matter how broad or narrow you conceive of this freedom, we have a near bullet-proof ability to lampoon our political overlords. (Naturally, the Bill of Rights protects us against governmental retribution and not private circumstances. You can, for instance, lose your job, as long as the government is not your employer, for saying certain things. This kind of outcome is not censorship, and neither is it unconstitutional.)

What complicates our rodeo clown’s situation, of course, is that President Obama is our first African-American president. The assumption, all too frequently, is that any criticism, either comic or not, is racially motivated. This, when combined with the commonly liberal bent of much of our mainstream media, has resulted in a President who appears beyond ridicule.

I remember when there was hope that Obama’s 2008 election might help us overcome our racial past. So far, with Henry Louis Gates and his bookend Trayvon Martin, President Obama has done little to move us beyond our racial obsessions. In fact, given his response to those situations, he has, I believe, perpetuated easy, and often lazy, thinking about race. In short, unless something changes, President Obama will have failed at one of his grandest opportunities–to challenge conventional thought in the area. Whether the issue is affirmative action, university admissions, poverty, or violence, President Obama has embraced the old answers that have already faltered or failed.

What does all of this mean? We should make persistent fun of President Obama and suffer the outcomes as a result. Yes, we might be called racists, but we should make it obvious that no one, regardless of race, is beyond the reach of humor. The problem is not a lack of material, for sure, but a lack of political courage.