Apropos of nothing, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson decided this week to not-so-boldly wade into the three-year-old controversy surrounding NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
While questions about pregame protests and players calling attention to inequality and police brutality were front and center during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the on-field issue has faded over time, with far fewer players taking a knee this year.
Either Parson didn’t get the memo, or the governor has just plain run out of ideas as he casts about for inspiration in his quest to castigate the “extreme left.” He’s awfully late to this debate — perhaps the governor would like to weigh in on what’s wrong with “New Coke” while he’s at it.
With all the urgent issues facing Missouri — 120,000 people have lost Medicaid coverage, gun violence has increased dramatically in the state, and the president’s trade wars have left local farmers reliant on government bailouts — Parson chose this moment to denounce kneeling?
On Parson’s personal Twitter account, the governor wrote: “The worst part of where the extreme left is going is how they openly disrespect the American flag and kneel instead of stand during our National Anthem. I’ll always stand for our flag and for our country.”
If the tweet seems a bit like a bolt out of the blue — not to mention contradictory to the views Parson has voiced in the past — it was.
“We all have individual freedoms in this country,” Parson said then. He was absolutely correct.
So why the change of heart, Governor? The fact that you have a campaign to run next year surely has nothing to do with this seemingly random flip-flop — right?
Campaign manager Steele Shippy said Parson believes that Democrats are trying to tear apart the fabric of the foundation of America.
“Free speech works both ways,” Shippy said. “We want folks to stand up for the American Dream.”
A national conversation about patriotism began in 2016 after former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to send an important message about social justice issues. Other NFL players soon followed, drawing the ire of conservatives around the country and President Donald Trump.
But how is exercising one’s First Amendment right with a silent protest an attack on America? The explanation offered by the governor’s campaign rings hollow, and deservedly, online criticism of Parson has been pointed and swift.
One Twitter user wrote: “Kneeling for the anthem to protest police brutality & racism does not disrespect our flag or our country. What disrespects our country is an unelected Gov throwing tens of thousands of children off Medicaid...”
“Parroting GOP talking points of distraction is not leadership,” wrote another.
So, what, exactly, is agitating the governor?
Armed with the advantages of incumbency and a curiously early endorsement from President Donald Trump, Parson appears well-positioned for the 2020 Republican gubernatorial primary. But the anthem tweet is unquestionably a politician ploy, suggesting that perhaps the governor is running a bit scared.
Parson, who has an actual record to campaign on, certainly can do better than seeking to divide the state by lobbing political grenades solely for the purpose of scoring points with his base.
The governor should focus on explaining to all Missouri voters his priorities for the state going forward. And while politicking via Twitter is risky business, Parson is going to need to be much quicker on the draw if he wants to take a stand on social media.