Janesville73°

No laughing matter

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Esther Cepeda
February 28, 2011
— I recall a TV comedy sketch from years ago in which people who made casual reference to killing the president were violently taken away by overzealous FBI agents. It was comedic only because at that time there was no question that to say such a thing was wrong, and that if you did—even as a joke—you’d get into deeeeeeep trouble.

How times have changed.


Last week, while speaking at a town hall meeting in Athens, Ga., Republican Rep. Paul Broun was asked by an audience member “Who’s going to shoot Obama?”


The audience broke into laughter, and Broun simply changed the subject.


Blake Aued, an Athens Banner-Herald reporter covering the event, posted direct quotes from a woman in the audience on his news blog.


“There was a lot of laughter, and a guy behind me said, ‘We all want to,’” Patsy Harris told Aued. “I didn’t … see Broun’s reaction, but it was not until the laughter died down that Broun then said, ‘Next question.’ That elicited more laughter.”


Nervous laughter? Maybe. But that’s a generous assumption.


Let’s face it, whether it’s anger over Obamacare, a perceived “socialist” slant to government since Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, or just plain hatred against the president because he is African-American, the fact is that there will always be some people who wish him harm.


Worse, as a society, we mostly just ignore the violent anger bubbling on the surface. Where did the outrage that followed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting go?


How many news stories have you read about someone denouncing Broun for not reacting with sternness, or wrath, to an inquiry regarding the assassination of the president? Merely changing the subject does not seem an appropriate response to a crowd of people chuckling at such imagery.


According to Washington Post blogger Melissa Bell, “The Secret Service interviewed the constituent who made the comment and ‘determined that he or she was an “elderly person” who now regrets making a bad joke.’” Bad joke indeed. But there is a segment of our population that gets through the day with Barack Obama death jokes. They’re the same people who have played Pictogame’s online video game “Kill Barack Obama” 17,000 times in the last two years. Just for fun, mind you.


Well, it’s not funny. And these “jokes” shouldn’t be waved off. It took Broun three days to cough up this statement reported by Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent.


“I deeply regret that this incident happened at all,” Broun said. “Furthermore, I condemn all statements—made in sincerity or jest—that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the president of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.” This is the very definition of too little, too late.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her e-mail address si estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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