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Wow: What Shoe Throwing Taught Me About America

Sometimes it’s your friends who give you an epiphany.  In this case, Rick Perlstein, whom I admire greatly, with his statement that shoe-chucker Al-Zeidi should go to jail for a rather long time:

Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he’s deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we’re in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time.

Wow.  Just… wow.  Nor is Perlstein alone, I’ve had a number of liberals tell me the same thing.  Now, "assaulting" someone by throwing a shoe at them, unless it’s a spiked heel or a steel toed workboat, is not a serious assault.  It is, in fact, very similiar to throwing a pie at someone.  Yes, as a formal matter, it’s clearly a crime, and yes, if the person in question has no sense of humor, you’ll probably do time, and I’ve got no problem with that.

But a "rather long time"?  Please, it’s not a serious crime.  There was almost no likelihood of serious injury, even if Bush had been hit.  Law which cannot recognize degrees is not justice.

As it happens, some years back someone threw a pie at Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.  Chretien was not amused, and charges were laid.  The kid in question was clearly guilty and found guilty.  He was sentenced to 30 days, he served 8.  To most Canadians that seemed more than reasonable, because we knew it wasn’t a serious crime.  Can’t have folks throwing pies at politicians they don’t like all the time, of course, but it certainly didn’t deserve "going to jail for a rather long time."

I find it very revealing about the US (and I’m not being snarky here) that even many American liberals think that chucking a shoe at Bush deserves a long sentence.   I think part of it is the general "law and order"American ethos of "lock them up even for minor crimes and throw the key away" but I think in Rick’s case it’s mostly about the semi-deification and Kingly status that is assigned to American Presidents.  The awe and deference that Presidents receive in America is remarkable.  To Canadians, and I think most other countries, their Presidents, Prime Ministers and so on are just politicians, not ritual persona whose dignity must never be challenged.

I understand now, much better, why Bush was never impeached, why Congress bowed to him, why Americans despite their hatred, never really challenged him.  I also understand, much better, on a visceral level, why Americans lock up more people than any other nation.  When you think that chucking a shoe at someone is worthy of a long sentence, well, of course your prisons are full of people who either shouldn’t be there, or who should have only been there briefly. 

I also find the lack of perspective interesting.  Bush is a mass murderer, a war criminal, and people are outraged someone from the country he destroyed threw a shoe at him? That reporter has probably seen thousands of dead bodies, many with signs of torture and rape. Dead kids and women. Certainly some of them were his friends, probably his family. Sure, I think the guy should be tried for assault and given a few days in jail. Perhaps the court, the next day, can start George Bush’s war crimes trial for mass murder, torture and illegal war.

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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at