by Donna Brazile
(CNN) — Satire and mockery are part of politics. Sometimes they attack not the policy but the person, going from nuanced to nasty. But surely not “everything goes.” Promoting violence and applauding abuse — there’s just no excuse for it.
The latest uproar occurred at the Missouri State Fair, when a rodeo clown wearing an Obama mask invited the crowd to cheer if they wanted to see “Obama run down by a bull.”
“As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them,” Perry Beam told USA Today, “…they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says ‘Here’s our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama. They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times…” Beam was there with his wife and a foreign exchange student who got a lesson in American political “civility.”
The reaction was bipartisan. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a and Sen. Claire McCaskill, both Democrats, weighed in with disapproval. And Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, said on Twitter he found the performance “disrespectful.”
That’s an understatement. “We are better than this.” One hopes so.
What are we to make, though, of a Slap Hillary website, suspiciously resurrected by an anti-Hillary PAC? The PAC sent out tweets to reporters in hopes, I suspect, of stirring up the red meat base, get publicity, and solicit money. It provocatively asked journalists, “Have you slapped Hillary today?”
First posted 13 years ago, the site shows a cartoon of Hillary’s face. When a button is pressed, a hand slaps her so hard she reacts like a bobble doll, her head bouncing from side to side as her eyes cross.
The “SlapHillary Team,” which hosts the “game,” says they are “a grass roots, nonprofit organization.” BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski did some research and found its treasurer, Christopher M. Marston, is a Republican campaign finance consultant and former member of the Bush administration.
The Super PAC defended itself and posted a link to a “Slap Palin” website. The PAC isn’t contrite, saying on its website, “We didn’t see the liberal media bemoaning this “Slap Palin” game when it came out! They only care when it’s the candidate they support for president.”
There’s something suspicious about the “Slap Palin” site — a paucity of comments, just 19 in 2008 and only two last year, indicates a set-up. A little more research revealed that the “Slap Palin” is hosted on a computer at the same address in downtown Washington that hosts a “Slap Clinton” and “Slap Obama” site.
We can perhaps relegate the “Slap Palin-Clinton-Obama” anonymous owner to the fringe. But what are we to say when a former administration official and current campaign consultant to one of the major parties promotes violence against public figures?
It doesn’t matter if the website — or rodeo clown — encourages violence against a Democrat or a Republican, a male or female. It’s wrong. It’s vile. It’s one of the few true evils in politics.
Those who promote or approve “slapping” or “shooting” or “running over by a bull” any public official should be shamed and shunned. Virtual violence needs to be denounced and never justified because it’s political.
Still, given the extent of domestic violence — 25% of American women will experience domestic violence in their lives — encouraging people to slap or abuse female elected officials is particularly pernicious. Slapping women so hard their heads bobble is not a game, not even virtually.
We need to go further, and condemn activities that show no respect for elected officials.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas’ 36th District issued an invitation to the rodeo clown to appear at a rodeo in his district. “Liberals want to bronco bust dissent,” Stockman said. “But Texans value speech, even if its speech they don’t agree with.” This isn’t about liberals or conservatives, Congressman; it’s about respect for elected officials, and coupling violence with ridicule.
It’s one thing to use free speech to parody or satirize a politician, and another to couple violence with a deliberate showing of disrespect.
When Harry Truman was campaigning in his home state of Missouri (where the rodeo clown performed), he took questions from a high school audience. A teenage boy asked him a question about their town councilman, called him, “Our local yokel.”
Truman lit into the boy. Politics is a noble art, Truman said. It’s difficult to forge consensus and lead fighting factions for the common good. But this is what politicians do. They deserve respect. The boy was chastened, and apologized.
Knowing, however, that a public scolding by a man of his stature could affect the boy’s self-esteem for a long time, Truman talked with him after the assembly, and invited him to write and tell him about his grades. They corresponded until the boy graduated college.
We have to make our civic discourse civil again. We have to recognize that virtual violence masquerading as ridicule is vicious; it’s a toxic atmosphere we allow by our silence. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with Washington. What’s wrong isn’t Washington. It’s us.
Editor’s note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.