Janesville66.1°

Assassination joke just wasn’t funny

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Joel McNally
May 20, 2008

Just when we thought there was a limit to just how low politicians could go this year, Republican Mike Huckabee absolutely took our breath away by joking about an attempted assassination of Barack Obama.


Even worse, Huckabee did his hilarious joshing about shooting the man about to become the first African-American Democratic presidential nominee in history before the most gun-crazed audience in the country—the armed-to-the teeth convention of the National Rifle Association.


Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate who is now angling for the vice presidential nomination, was one of the warm-up acts for presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. It was part of the annual ritual at national NRA conventions during which Republican candidates are required to run a gauntlet kissing every fanny in attendance.


Huckabee, a former minister, at one time tried to present himself as the most moral candidate for the presidency. It’s disturbing to think what less devout Republicans might consider an amusing way to eliminate the Democratic nominee.


Huckabee was speaking when a loud noise came from backstage, something that should certainly frighten anyone at an NRA convention. Without missing a beat, Huckabee said: “That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He’s getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”


What a card.


Huckabee has since apologized, saying it was a dumb joke.


“Anybody that knows me knows that I would never, ever try to inject something like that to create any dangerous moment for any candidate,” he said.


Huckabee’s incredibly ignorant remark suggesting the attempted murder of Obama will, no doubt, be quickly forgiven and forgotten. Reporters obviously like Huckabee, partly for his good humor, even though in this case he was about as funny as an iron lung.


It’s not as if Huckabee said anything really offensive about guns like Obama did when he suggested small-town folks “cling to guns and religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” because they’re frustrated by feeling powerless and being ignored by their government.


But Huckabee can’t say, as Obama did, that he used a poor choice of words to express some deeper truth. Huckabee simply said something outrageously offensive and incendiary before the nation’s largest gathering of the armed and dangerous.


We’re fortunate Hillary Clinton’s campaign is winding down. The way she’s been knocking back shots of whiskey and riding around in pickup trucks, she probably would have come out on stage at the NRA twirling six guns and shooting out the lights.


Perhaps the saddest performance of sucking up to the NRA was John McCain’s. That’s because McCain had previously staked out his independent image by daring to cross the NRA by sponsoring a bill to close the loophole that allows gun shows to sell deadly weapons to anyone, sane or insane, drunk or sober, without background checks.


McCain’s campaign for the presidency has barely started, but he already has managed to betray almost every courageous, principled stand he has ever taken to build his reputation as a maverick within the Republican Party. McCain already announced campaigning in West Virginia that he wholeheartedly supported the NRA and its goals and was looking forward to getting its endorsement.


Then, after Huckabee’s embarrassing assassination comedy act, McCain proudly proclaimed: “For more than two decades, I’ve opposed efforts to ban guns, ban ammunition, ban magazines and dismiss gun owners as some kind of fringe group unwelcome in ‘modern’ America.”


That mocking denigration of namby-pamby “modernism” in America might be a great way for an elderly presidential candidate to pander to a primitive organization that still believes in the six-gun justice of the 1800s. But at a time when the most resonant political message in America is a growing desire for change, turning back the calendar to the shoot-’em-up wild, wild west wasn’t what we had in mind.


And absolutely the last thing we need today are politicians joking in public about those bygone days of the 1960s when we lost our most charismatic and inspirational leaders to political assassination.


Joel McNally is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail address is jmcnally@wi.rr.com.

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