Skip to content Skip to footer

William Rivers Pitt | Send in the Clowns

A new anti-Obamacare ad from the Koch brothers takes the term clownish to an entire new level.

Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear
And where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here…
– Stephen Sondheim
When I was young, a certain segment of my summer would be carved out and set aside for visiting my father and family in Alabama. I would board a plane all by myself like a big boy and wing my way south, where I would spend a joyously eccentric slice of time in Montgomery, Mobile, Birmingham and Decatur with my Dad, my Memaw and my Grandad.

The thing is, I loved my Grandad, but hated the room I had to sleep in whenever I visited him, because of the clown picture. It hung right over the bed, but was somehow completely visible no matter where you were in the room. Even when you closed your eyes, you knew it was there: the image of a boy, wearing a dotted and pointed clown hat, with white facepaint and rogued cheeks, mouth open in what was obviously a cry of mortal terror…or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. The thing was utterly harmless in the daylight, but took on a demonic life of its own once darkness fell, and is, without doubt, the reason I hate and despise clowns to this day.

Think the world needs an alternative to corporate media? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong.

So when the Koch Brothers decided to fund and air this anti-Obamacare TV ad aimed at convincing young adults that having health care will get you raped by a giant speculum-wielding Uncle Sam clown beast, needless to say, it gave me a nasty turn…and I don’t have a vagina, so I can only guess how women who see the image of Rapey Uncle Sam walking into an OBGYN exam room to greet a woman with legs high in the stirrups feel about it.
You have to see the ad to believe it.
Friends of mine who saw the thing were appalled that a GOP front group could be so brazenly hypocritical as to air an ad that showed Uncle Sam with a speculum, preparing to plunder the private parts of an innocent woman. After all, these are the old white men who are working overtime to make it mandatory in states all across the nation for women seeking abortions to get transvaginal ultrasounds, what Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan brilliantly referred to as a “penalty dick.”
You don’t understand, I tell them. The single greatest strength of the modern Republican Party, the source of all their power, what gives them their ability to confuse and derange any national conversation, is their utter and complete lack of shame. They will say anything – literally anything, no matter how contradictory or antithetical to what they said just yesterday – if it gives them the upper hand in a TV debate, allows them to play the victim or the victor at turns, and gives them the chance to keep genuine debate at arm’s length. Genuine debate is not their purpose in Washington DC. They know full well how full of it they are. They simply do not care.
It is just another clown show.
Which brings me, quite parenthetically, to my point: by all reports, Ted Cruz and John Boehner and President Obama and all the other gibbering DC nitwits are tying themselves in knots over Obamacare, a looming government shutdown, and a potential debt default, the latter two of which run the risk of causing the Earth to crash into the sun. That is what every “mainstream” news outlet would have us all believe, anyway. Their coverage of it is utterly captivating; try to imagine a nightly newscast about a street fight between 536 clowns to decide the fate of the world, multiply it fourscore, and you’ll have a sense of how our sainted scribes are dealing with the matter.
Two things:
First, they’ll work it out one way or another before doom strikes us all, even if they just kick the can down the road a ways. If one party or the other looks bad nationally, that is just the price of doing business. Most of the Republicans behind this whole thing are doing it for the sole purpose of fundraising in their far-right gerrymandered districts, and that’s a fact. Most of the Democrats sitting on the sidelines are perfectly happy to let the GOP make perfect fools of themselves for their own fundraising purposes. Almost none of them have a real taste for Armageddon. Trust me: this whole kerfuffle will get settled with a few ticks left on the clock, and the “mainstream” news coverage will be breathless, and the gears will grind on.
Second, and by orders of magnitude more importantly, the Trans Pacific Partnership is approaching fast-track approval, the Keystone XL pipeline continues to grind towards its own approval, and you don’t hear a word about either, because they are what is really important to the people putting on the clown show. It’s not a conspiracy, for a wink is as good as a nod to a blind man, and blind men are what we are.
So go right ahead and get all worked up over the dismal spoon-fed press clown show that is this mess over Obamacare, the shutdown and the debt ceiling. In the meantime, a deal that forever enshrines corporate power over you and your country, and a pipeline that will ooze poison into the aquifer you drink from, slide into existence with bi-partisan lubrication.
Ignore the clowns. As my grandfather used to say, keep your eye on the main tent.
​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?