Barbara Shelly

Sadly, clown rodeo stunt is too reflective of Missouri

Rarely do Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder sound the identical message. But they did on Sunday after word spread about the disgraceful incident at the Missouri State Fair, where an enthusiastic crowd cheered on a rodeo clown who donned a mask of President Barack Obama and called for him to be run down by a bull.

“We are better than this,” Kinder opined on Twitter, after quickly and correctly pronouncing the actions “disrespectful.”

“Missouri is better than this,” McCaskill said in a statement.

But is it?

It wasn’t just that the rodeo clown felt empowered to ridicule the president of the United States with a stunt the conjures the worst aspects of a 19th Century minstrel show. It was that the crowd loved it. And no one in charge felt compelled to stop it.

The Missouri State Fair, which receives more than $400,000 in taxpayer money, is supposed to showcase agriculture and rural living. Unfortunately, on Saturday it showcased Missouri’s darker history as a slave state slow to accept integration and a place with pockets of citizens who would still prefer to fly the Confederate flag.

And although Kinder, McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon, state fair officials and others denounced the hateful stunt, disrespect toward President Obama is rife in Missouri. The Republican speaker of the House, Tim Jones, was once a committed “birther,” questioning Obama’s citizenship. A bill calling for presidential nominees to produce proof of their “natural born status” before they can appear on the Missouri ballot still gets introduced every year in the Missouri General Assembly. As recently as a year ago it passed the House.

Missouri is where Obama is routinely described as a socialist, not just in rural nooks and crannies but also on the floor of the House and Senate. It is the home of former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, who, before uttering his career-ending “legitimate rape” remark, won points with Republicans by declaring that Obama was “a complete menace to our civilization.”

Missouri is where the legislature this year passed a bill declaring federal gun laws to be null and void in the Show-Me State. And chances are Democrats will team up with Republicans to override Nixon’s veto of the patently unconstitutional bill. The legislature this year passed a bill aimed at banning Islamic law from being administered in Missouri courts, although that’s never happened.

Missouri is where a former House speaker, Republican Steve Tilley, locked the doors to the House chamber to keep the public away while he and his cronies inducted Rush Limbaugh, a radio host known for hateful comments, into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Time after time, Missouri makes the news for acts and comments of sheer ignorance. And sorry, the stunt at the state fair rodeo wasn’t comedy or satire. It was ignorance.

Missouri is a state with immense natural beauty, great cities and towns, outstanding colleges and universities and decent and fine people. But it tolerates too much disrespect for Obama and the inclusive, multicultural nation that he represents.

We should be better than the spectacle we presented on Saturday night. I just don’t know that we are.