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Presidents no strangers to clowning

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webmaster | 08/16/13

A lot of hand-wringing and mea culpas were the result when a rodeo clown last week at the Missouri State Fair put on an Obama mask and with the help of an announcer poked some fun at the president. Some people thought that might have been racist, and as a result, the clown, the boss of the clowns and others lost jobs or quit.

That’s silly. People have been poking fun with presidents by wearing masks for as long as I can remember. I remember John Kennedy masks, worn by people who were trying to imitate his Boston accent, ridiculing him for his wealth, his liberal-leaning politics. To his credit, Kennedy accepted the joking in good humor, even if some of it was biting.

Many of us remember Vaughn Meader, the comedian impressionist who made an album, “The First Family,” making fun of Kennedy and his clan. It was hilarious. It won a Grammy in 1963. Kennedy reportedly gave copies of the album as Christmas gifts, and joked about it often himself.

After Kennedy was assassinated, though, Meader went back to stand-up comedy, and wound up managing a bar, according to his Wikipedia biography.

War protesters wore Lyndon Johnson masks and Hubert Humphrey masks. A lot of pro-Johnson people wore Goldwater masks in the 1964 election campaign. Nixon masks were rampant. You still occasionally see one. I never saw a Gerald Ford mask, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. I saw Carter masks.

There were plenty of Reagan masks. There were even Reagan television cartoons, calling him Ronald Raygun because of his support of the Star Wars initiative.

The funniest of many Bill Clinton masks I saw had a cigar in its mouth. There were many George W. Bush masks — some that made him look like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine.

Now it’s Obama’s turn. He’s in his second term as president. Does the fact one of his parents was a Kenyan and one was from Kansas mean a rodeo clown can’t make a joke at his expense? He has a good sense of humor. He isn’t fragile. He won the presidency — nobody handed it to him. He can take a little ridicule at his own expense at a Missouri rodeo.

He’s proven he can take a lot more than that.


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