- - Thursday, August 15, 2013

A rodeo clown put on a Barack Obama mask at the Missouri State Fair on Saturday night in Sedalia and playfully and tastelessly asked the crowd whether they wanted to see the president run down by a bull. There were a mixture of cheers and boos and a national incident.

Show-Me State politicians tripped over themselves to condemn the clown, who was barred from the arena for life, and sensitivity training has been ordered for other rodeo clowns, and maybe even for the bull if the fair can find him. The NAACP wants a federal investigation, and the Secret Service may want to interview the bull, which will be difficult since the bull hasn’t done anything yet, probably because he’s imaginary.

Presidents ask for abuse with the oath of office. Mr. Obama is in good company. George Washington was hanged in effigy, Thomas Jefferson was slandered mercilessly, “haters” went to the Bijou just to boo newsreel images of FDR, and images of George W. Bush were burned, spat on and ripped up so frequently that the incidents rarely made the papers.

The real insult is to taxpayers forced to subsidize insolvent state fairs. Missouri’s fair received $558,000 from the state treasury, and state-fair welfare is a national epidemic, like ticks on sheep. Legislators from Bismarck to Baton Rouge have fairs on the dole. The handouts dilute the incentive for state fairs, like movie theaters and music halls, to sell entertainment at good value. The more they get, the harder they fail.

The Illinois State Fair wins the blue ribbon for boondoggling. An audit found $33.9 million of public money covering losses from 2001 to 2009. This year, the fair expects to collect nearly $7 million. With 13 million residents, the subsidy is spread out a little, but in Wyoming, population 576,412, the $1.5 million annual subsidy for 50,000 fairgoers hits each taxpayer for $30. A boy could buy a lot of funnel cake and belly wash for $30.

Maryland’s state fair snagged $1.4 million in public cash last year. Wisconsin’s took in $931,700, and Utah’s is scheduled to get $675,200 this fiscal year. State fairs in Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota and Tennessee get six-figure handouts every year.

A few states have said “enough is enough.” Michigan eliminated state fair subsidies, and in the wake of the clowning around, some Missouri legislators are thinking of following Michigan’s example. Fairs are fun, but governors aren’t impresarios. The market can determine what entertainment is worth. If legislators want to pay people to clown around, they should do it with their own money.

The Washington Times