01 March 2012
Idiot of the Week candidate: Judge Richard Cebull
Let's be clear about why this federal judge from Montana is up for consideration this week. Judge Cebull has scandalized people by admitting to having forwarded a lame yet nasty joke about the President and his mother on his official e-mail account. The joke, as transcribed here, has for its punchline the insinuation that the President's mother may have had sex with a dog on the same night when Barack Obama himself was conceived. Har har de har har. Reader comments on this story in a Great Falls newspaper are illuminating in a predictable way. The majority condemn the judge while an obviously Republican minority take the usual "liberals can't take a joke" line. In many cases, that familiar observation is probably true. They are not what used to be called "hard-boiled" and are too empathetic to appreciate the notion that life itself is a kind of joke on the living. But Cebull's was no joke on life in general. It's an expression of raw hatred for the President of the United States. It can seem funny to no one except those who hate the President and those who find bestiality inherently hilarious. As to whether the joke is racist, Cebull tries to have it both ways. He acknowledges now that the joke itself is racist, but claims not to have been racially motivated in spreading it around. Admitting opposition to the President's party and policies, the judge says his dislike of Obama is purely political and not racist. His is also an implicit admission of a political hatred so deep and visceral that he could find that joke amusing and worth forwarding to friends. That kind of political hatred is all too common. It can be found on both sides of the major partisan divide, and Democrats will not be honest if they deny unanimously ever making salacious jokes about southern conservatives and the alleged sexual habits of rednecks and hillbillies. There's hatred in that humor as well, and Republicans have been vigilant and unforgiving toward expressions of hatred toward their party in either federal or federally-subsidized institutions like National Public Radio. But the "hatred" expressed by NPR officials that disqualified the network from federal funding as far as most Republicans were concerned was mild, and in fact hardly hateful at all, compared to what Cebull circulated through his official e-mail account. If there is a public offense here, it consists entirely of abuse of office. No one can stop this judge from hating the President or telling nasty jokes about him in private -- which can mean both his home and his office as long as he isn't doing public business in the latter. But he ought to be reprimanded, however slightly, not for the political offense of insulting the President, but for using his official e-mail to circulate a dirty joke. That's nearly equivalent to telling the joke from the bench during a hearing, and that's what makes the judge eligible for Idiot honors. Cebull's case is a matter of propriety rather than politics. It's also a timely reminder of the depths of political hatred to which Americans can sink. But to be fair, if anyone has heard any good ones about the Republican presidential candidates, we may as well air those out in the name of equal time.