PRESS EDITORIAL: Political hatred is not a fit theme for a County Fair exhibit

At its heart, the Ozaukee County Fair honors the traditions that began with its founding 169 years ago as an exhibition of local farm products, livestock and domestic skills, along with friendly competition in an eclectic mix of categories ranging from pie making to cattle raising, with a particular focus on youth, represented now by members of the county’s 4-H clubs. Music, food, vendors and booths devoted to various activities and causes have long been fitting accompaniments for those traditions.

Overall, the County Fair represents family entertainment that is about as wholesome as it gets—which is why a small but very unsavory piece of this year’s fair stands out as a grotesque intrusion.

A booth that prominently displayed and offered for sale T-shirts and signs printed with the words “Joe and his Hoe Gotta Go” was a County Fair exhibit that should not have been allowed by fair organizers.

The booth and its rancid merchandise amounted to an exhibit of the pathetic depths to which political disagreement has descended in this country. The “Hoe” on the shirts and signs was an salacious reference to Kamala Harris, the Black woman who is the vice president of the U.S. The word is slang for “whore” and is often used to denigrate Black women.

There are many ways and words, including some that are persuasive, humorous or thought-provoking, available to express disapproval of the nation’s elected leaders. That some people would choose to do it with puerile rhyming language that is racist, sexist and obscene at a county fair suggests a political divide that is fueled in part by hate.

It is telling that other merchandise at the booth flaunted the words “Let’s Go Brandon,” which is code for subjecting President Joe Biden to a violent sexual act. (The derivation of the code is too idiotic to waste space on an explanation here.)

The booth was also, however, an exhibit of freedom of speech at work. Americans have the right to express their beliefs in the words they choose, no matter how outrageous, nasty or obscene. As unpleasant as it may be to be exposed to this sort of expression, it is a necessary price to pay for the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.

That opening statement of the Bill of Rights, the fundamental precept of the American democracy, prevents government from restricting the language used by the authors, makers and wearers of the offending shirts. But it does not require that venues, or what in dated vernacular might have been called soap boxes, be provided by non-government entities for those who want to express their views in public. The Ozaukee County Agricultural Society, the nonprofit organization that puts on the fair, does not have a free-speech requirement to provide space for the sale of merchandise bearing language some attendees would find offensive.

The writer of a letter to the editor published in last week’s Ozaukee Press described the short shrift a friend got from the fair office when she complained about the T-shirts and signs, pointing out they were prominently displayed where all fair goers, including children, would see them. She persisted, and eventually event personnel persuaded the exhibitor to move the offensive products to the back of the booth.

The experience should serve as a warning to the County Fair to be alert for a repeat next year and be ready to use the authority clearly stated in its sponsor’s Exhibitor Rules and Regulations: “We reserve the right to restrict the sale or distribution of any item deemed inappropriate by the Ozaukee County Agricultural Society.”

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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