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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Assassination Joke

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Just when we thought there was a limit to how low politicians could go this year, Republican Mike Huckabee took our breath away by joking about an attempted assassination of Barack Obama. Even worse, Huckabee hilariously joked about shooting the man who is set to become the first African-American presidential nominee in history in front of the most gun-crazed audience in the country: armed-to-the-teeth convention of the National Rifle Association.

Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate who is now angling for vice presidential nomination, was one of 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 kissevery 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 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. Without missa 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.

Of course, Huckabee’s incredibly ignorant suggestion of attempted murder will likely be quickly forgiven and forgotten. Reporters obviously like Huckabee, partly his good humor, even though in this case was about as funny as an iron lung.

It’s not as if Huckabee said anything realoffensive about guns, like Obama did when he suggested that 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. That qualified as a full-blown political gaffe is still being bandied about nearly two months after Obama uttered the remark.

There is one big difference between what Obama said and what Huckabee said: What Obama said was true.

That has always been the real definition a political gaffe: when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Huckabee can’t claim he used the wrong words to express some deeper truth. He simply said something outrageously offensive and incendiary before the nation's largest gathering of the armed and dangerous.

But then, there is never any shortage of offensive and incendiary remarks at NRA conventions. We’re just fortunate that 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.

McCain Bows Again
Perhaps the saddest performance of sucking up to the NRA, however, 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 ever took to build his reputation as a maverick within the Republican Party.

Not only did McCain sponsor the bill to close the gun-show loophole, but he also appeared in several television commercials in support of gun-control ballot initiatives around the country. He even filmed a movie trailer championing gun control for Americans for Gun Safety, an anti-gun-violence organization that proclaimed McCain “our No. 1 hero.”

That didn’t stop McCain from announcing as he campaigned in West Virginia recently 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 West wasn’t what we had in mind.

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

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com