Under Analysis: Lawmaker's positions are no laughing matter

 Charles Kramer, The Levison Group

More often than not, this column features humor as a way of commenting on the legal profession, recently enacted legislation or court decisions, and/or the role of lawyers, judges and the legal profession in society. Humor, satire, irony and the like are a longstanding method of social comment, and the Levison Group is proud to be a part of that tradition. Sadly, in today’s politically polarized world, in which most apparently believe that commentary is only proper and protected speech when it agrees with their particular p.o.v., the role of humor is in jeopardy. Hence, I ask you to speak out NOW to protect the Levison Group. Do not let us be banned from state fairs, or the halls of Congress. Do not let our voices be muffled. Do not let us be the next Tuffy Gessling of the world!!!! (Although, admittedly, from a pure comic relief point of view, being known as Tuffy would not be altogether a bad thing).

For those of you who are not rodeo aficionados or silly politician watchers, Tuffy Gessling is a rodeo clown. At the most recent Missouri State Fair, Mr. Gessling put on a President Obama mask as part of his act, while a cohort purportedly warmed up the crowd by, in part, asking if they were ready to see their President get speared by a bull. The crowd laughed, and roared, and Tuffy went on to perform his role at the rodeo event — something we’ll get to later.

The crowd enjoyed the rodeo, seeing it as a still relevant spectacle of athletic endeavor. Others, apparently, saw it as something else entirely — a chance to get their name in the paper.

Almost immediately, Tuffy’s satirical barb at our sitting president made first local, then regional, then national news. Overnight, an act of a rodeo clown was deemed a violation of virtually any law somebody could come up with — without regard for the actual elements of the crime, and often without knowledge of any of the actual facts. Members of the Missouri state legislature criticized the rodeo clown on the floor of the legislature. The president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP Mary Ratliff claimed in a radio interview that a hate crime had been committed, because Tuffy and friend “used a person’s race to depict who they are and to make degrading comments, gestures, et cetera, against them.” She made this public statement despite the fact that President Obama’s race was not actually mentioned, and despite the fact that nothing about the comments that were made, or Tuffy’s actions, implied any racial commentary, and despite the fact that Ratliff’s definition of a “hate crime” was simply wrong. (The actual federal hate crimes statute requires a defendant to have “willfully caused bodily injury by use of a fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device,” which obviously did not occur.) In actuality, the assumption that the lampooning of the sitting president was racially motivated raises questions about those making the leap to that conclusion. Rorschach would be proud.

In any event, it didn’t take long for commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and even Federal Congressmen and Congresswomen to jump on the bandwagon. Not to be outdone by state and national government, local political subdivisions, such as school boards, also felt the need to get involved. The president of the Rodeo Association which put on the event resigned supposedly because the association refused to ban the rodeo clown from membership. It then was discovered, however, that the Boonville School District, of which the former Rodeo Association president is superintendent of schools, had begun its own investigation into the fair event. In all likelihood the man simply wanted to keep his day job. The Missouri State Fair permanently banned Tuffy from performing at the fair (which undoubtedly seemed to Tuffy, at this point, as a punishment akin to telling your seventeen-year-old pierced and tattooed daughter that she is not allowed to share her room with her nine-year-old book-nerd sister anymore).

Lost in all of this political make-hay, of course, is the fact that Tuffy the rodeo clown did nothing wrong — or even original. Rodeo clowns have donned masks of sitting presidents since the days of President Taft. However, the lack of wrongfulness and originality are not the most discouraging aspects of this make-weight pseudo controversy. Rather, the most disheartening thing is the fact that lawyers, politicos and commentators (many of whom are also lawyers or law school trained) have overlooked two important factors: the first amendment and the role of the rodeo clown. The First Amendment protects, at least in theory, such political speak. More importantly, however, the primary job of the Rodeo Clown is to protect a fallen rider from a charging bull by distracting the bull and providing an alternative target for the bull to attack, whether the rider has been bucked off or has jumped off of the animal. These individuals expose themselves to great danger in order to protect the cowboy, and often do, in fact, get themselves hurt. As a rodeo clown, Tuffy thus risks life and limb every time he enters a rodeo arena, simply so the people in the stands can be entertained. The public ridicule and accusation Tuffy has now been forced to endure is the thanks this brave athlete has received in return. Really?

To all of those who have spoken out against the man called Tuffy, to all of those who have started investigations or other witch hunts, to those who have publically accused this man of crimes he did not commit, and to those who would stifle the role of legal, social, or political commentary in America, there is only one conclusion this whole sordid event compels: shame on you.


Under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Charles Kramer is a principal of the St Louis-based law firm, Riezman Berger, P.C. Comments or criticisms of this column may be sent to this newspaper or direct to the Levison Group at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2013 Under Analysis L.L.C.