“I’ve got no respect for him,” said Virgil Henke, 65, a livestock farmer who explained his distaste for Obama with several falsehoods about his background: “Why, he’s destroyed this country. How much freedom have we lost? I don’t care whether it’s a black man in office, but we have to have a true-blooded American. I think he is Muslim and trying to destroy the country, catering to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”
The rodeo incident and the clown at the center of it have become the latest illustration of racial divisions that continue to surface nearly five years into Obama’s presidency.
A three-minute amateur video of the rodeo act was picked up by news outlets worldwide. Democratic and Republican elected officials in Missouri quickly condemned the incident, saying it was offensive and inappropriate at a taxpayer-funded event with children in attendance. Asked about it Wednesday, a White House spokesman said that it was not one of Missouri’s “finer moments.”
But there has also been a backlash on the right, with conservative radio talk show hosts and writers dismissing the act as a joke no different from jabs aimed at other presidents. Moreover, they said, the president’s supporters ought to learn how to take a joke rather than seeing everything as racially motivated. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.), who tweeted that liberals are “thin-skinned and totalitarian,” has invited the clown to perform at rodeos in Texas.
There is a long history of mocking politicians at rodeos, and clowns have donned masks of other presidents as part of their acts. But James Staab, a political science professor at the University of Central Missouri, said last week’s incident “goes beyond the pale — they’re talking about physical injury and racial stereotypes.”
Whether the scene at the state fair was meant merely as mockery or something more sinister, there was no room for nuance among a dozen fairgoers interviewed Wednesday. There was near universal agreement that the incident was all in good fun, and disapproval of the president crossed into a deep, personal hatred, often tinted in racial terms.
“I was raised to think the blacks were bad; I’m not gonna lie. We lived on one side of the tracks, and they lived on the other,” said Margaret Abercrombie, 68, who is white and grew up along the Mississippi River in Sikeston, Mo.
Abercrombie said she voted twice for Obama but didn’t find anything wrong with the rodeo act. As she rode her motorized wheelchair to the grandstands at the rodeo arena, which on this day hosted tractor pull races, Abercrombie said the anti-Obama sentiments she encounters are based on race.