Toward a More Elevated Public Discourse

Posted: Aug 12, 2013 9:05 AM

As a former St. Louisan, I was sorry to read about a rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair who chose to don an Obama mask during a bull-riding competition on Saturday.  Sure, public frustration with the President is totally understandable; the total labor force participation is at historic lows  (recently, the lowest in 35 years!),  1 in 7 Americans is on food stamps, and unemployment is at a previously-unheard-of ongoing level above 7%.  And President Obama is busy playing golf on Martha's Vineyard, and using taxpayer money to transport his dog on its own aircraft. 

But that doesn't mean that the activity at the state fair was right.  Criticism is one thing -- and Americans, blessed with the First Amendment, have every right to critique their president with style and with vigor.  But at a certain point, displaying disrespect for the man who holds the office becomes a display of disrespect for the office itself.  Some of the activity at the fair crossed that line.

It's time for a more elevated discourse -- and yes, of course, vigorous dissent can be elevated.  The only way it will happen, however, is if there is bipartisan agreement that some things simply ought to be off limits.  It's worth asking anyone having the vapors now over what happened last weekend if s/he protested similarly when the "I Hate George Bush" reader came out; when Jonathan Chait penned a piece of unrefined vitriol about why "I hate President George W. Bush"; when a movie was released with a plot predicated on Bush's assassination; or the publication of a book in which a character fantasizes about Bush's assassination.

Americans of all political stripes are better than that.  Or we ought to be.

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