Outhouses: Public Enemy #1
[guest post by Dana]
In light of the U.S. Department of Justice sending a representative from its Community Relations Service team (which deals with racial discrimination disputes) to Nebraska because of one man’s protest float, Charles Cooke reminds us in an outstanding commentary of what we’re up against in this topsy-turvy world where any spoken criticism of this president must be racially motivated, and subsequently any efforts to protest the outcomes of his politics in an historical fashion, clearly must be racist, too.
Here’s the background of the Nebraska kerfuffle:
The Odd Fellows organized the parade. One of the floats included a zombie-like mannequin standing near an outhouse labeled “Obama Presidential Library.”
The float’s creator, Dale Remmich, has said the mannequin depicted himself, not President Barack Obama. He said he is upset with the president’s handling of the Veterans Affairs Department.
“Looking at the float, that message absolutely did not come through,” said Betty C. Andrews, the president of NAACP branches in Iowa and Nebraska.
Further, the The Nebraska Democratic Party called the float one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.”
And here is a portion of Cooke’s critical look at it:
In a typically risible statement, Nebraska’s state Democratic party described the incident as one of the “worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen.” That this is almost certainly true demonstrates just how much progress the United States has made in the last 50 years — and, in consequence, how extraordinarily difficult the professionally aggrieved are finding it to fill their quotas. If a fairly standard old saw is among the worst things to have happened to the Cornhusker State in recent memory, the country is in rather good shape, n’est-ce pas?
Exactly what it was about the float that rendered it “racist” was, of course, never explained. Instead, the assertion was merely thrown into the ether, ready to be accepted uncritically by the legions of righteously indignant keyboard warriors that lurk around social media as piranhas around a fresh carcass. But, for future reference at least, it would be nice to have the details of the offense unpacked. Are outhouses racist now? Are zombies? Or was it perhaps the overalls in which the zombie was dressed? Moreover, if any of these are now redolent of something sinister, at what point was this association held to be operative? A popular cartoon from 2006 depicted a latrine standing in the middle of the desert, on its outer wall the words “Bush Presidential Library.” Was this “racist,” or is this one of those timeless truths that were only discovered in 2009?
It is always tempting to believe one’s own time to be particularly interesting or fractious, but there is little in politics that is genuinely new. Sharp and violent denunciations of the executive branch have been a feature of American life since the republic’s first days. Before the Revolution, the colonists routinely hanged likenesses of unpopular royal representatives, including King George III; Andrew Oliver, the Massachusetts Distributor of Stamps; and the loyalist Supreme Court justice, Thomas Hutchinson. Afterward, having dispensed with the old guard, Americans took to lambasting the new, among them George Washington, who had effected the king’s defeat; Thomas Jefferson, who had authored the charter of separation; and James Madison, who had drafted the lion’s share of the new Constitution. Chief Justice John Jay’s 1795 treaty with the British was so wildly unpopular among the Jeffersonians that Jay reported being able to travel from Boston to Philadelphia by the light of his burning effigies. Later, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was subjected to the treatment. In one form or another, most presidents have been.
The modern era has served as no exception to the rule. During his two terms, George W. Bush was the object of considerable opprobrium, his likeness being frequently hanged, knived in the forehead, and even assassinated on prime-time television. At the height of the Left’s umbrage, progressive heroes Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield went so far as to take a twelve-foot effigy of Bush on a national tour, setting fire to it at each stop to the audience’s hearty cheers. Ben and Jerry make ice cream, not apple pie. But their barnstorming road trip could not have been more American. There are few things more indicative of human liberty than the ability to castigate power with impunity — up to and including the moment of offense. “To learn who rules over you,” Voltaire suggested, “simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Is Barack Obama to be a ruler?
As a reminder: George W. Bush.
And, an even more important reminder:
Update: After the parade, the man behind the outhouse, veteran H. Dale Remmich spoke with Nebraska news channel KTIV about the float:
“It’s me. I’ve got on my bibs. Yes, I’ve got my walker. I’m turning green and some say I look like a zombie. But I am not a hate-monger and I’m not a racist.
Remmich said he did not mean any disrespect for the presidency. He also said one of the reasons that contributed to the making of the float is the ongoing issues of the Veteran’s Affairs administration.
Remmich said, “I have three very close friends that are under VA care, or lack there of it, right now.”
Remmich said the second reason he constructed the float was because he was disappointed with the government’s handling of the Bergdahl scandal.
Remmich said, “I tried to use political satire as best I could, but to be honest with you it’s mostly political disgust, simply no more or no less.”
And, without knowing precisely what Remmich was protesting and without taking the time to find out, one resident jumped to judgement, seemingly based on others’ reactions:
[G]lory Kathurima, an immigrant from Kenya, who lives in Norfolk, says she was deeply offended.
Kathurima said, “[Some people were] laughing, some people were pointing, some people were clapping, and that’s when I really became scared. I was thinking ‘What are you guys laughing at? What’s remotely funny about this?’ I don’t see any sort of policy being argued. I don’t see any sort of stance being taken.”
As an aside, to those who were offended by the float, or thought it was mean-spirited or rude, does this expanded explanation change your mind or cause you to be more understanding of his expression, no matter how clumsily executed?