This came in an e-mail the other day, as a “joke”:
Dear Mr. Grim Reaper,
So far this year you have taken away my favorite dancer and entertainer Michael Jackson, favorite actor Patrick Swayze, and favorite actress Farrah Fawcett.
Just so you know, my favorite politician is Barack Obama.
My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and dismiss it as one in a million (or so) tasteless jokes scarcely worth the effort of hitting “delete.”
But it goes beyond tasteless. And it’s hardly isolated. You’ve probably heard about the joke circulating during the 2008 campaign about Barack Obama appearing at the pearly gates of heaven, happily announcing that he became the first black president of the United States. When St. Peter asked when that happened, Obama replied, “About 20 minutes ago!”
And more recently preachers (!!) are praying for Obama’s death.
There are T-shirts quoting Psalms 109:8 with the heading, “Pray for Obama.” To make sure some troublemaker wasn’t just making this up, I looked up the passage being referenced (here from the Good News Bible, Today’s English Version, © 1976 American Bible Society):
8. May his life soon be ended; may another man take his job!
9. May his children become orphans, and his wife a widow!
10. May his children be homeless beggars; may they be driven from the ruins they live in.
Is this funny? You think?
Clever? Well, consider the context of this passage. Here are the verses immediately preceding the above, quoted from the same page of the same Psalm in the same Bible:
6. Choose some corrupt judge to try my enemy, and let one of his own enemies accuse him.
7. May he be tried and found guilty; may even his prayer be considered a crime!
King David has been known by biblical scholars to be, um, ethically conflicted. Beseeching God to select a “corrupt judge” could be interpreted to be one such ethical lapse. But Verse 6 inconveniently dilutes the message Obama haters want to deliver.
This is hardly the first time that scriptures have been deliberately misused, but this doesn’t make it any less appalling.
And here’s another inconvenient note: Jesus spoke of the Old Testament’s “eye-for-an-eye” law and said, No more. “Love thy enemy” was his message. Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
OK, enough Bible-thumping for one day (or one week).
Back to the “jokes.”
Some three decades ago (yes, three decades!), Elvis Costello asked in a song, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” Now I ask, what’s so funny about hatred and death wishes?
Politics is, of course, a rough-and-tumble business. Always has been, always will be. But even among Reagan-haters, Clinton-bashers and Bush-whackers there (usually) was a line where you stopped short of suggesting, “Ya know, I think it’d be a good idea if (Fill in the blank) dropped dead.”
At least you didn’t make a public declaration of it.
What has changed? Why have otherwise seemingly decent people found it socially acceptable to suggest they’d be OK with the death of the president of the United States?
There is nothing funny about joking about the death of the constitutionally elected president of the United States, and there is something deeply wrong about fervently praying for the death of the president of the United States.
So the next time someone makes a “joke” about it, ask yourself if that’s the sort of idea you agree with. Ask yourself if advocating the untimely death of our elected head of state, even as a “joke,” whether you voted for him or not, is acceptable.
If it’s not OK, speak up.