LAS VEGAS, NV – If Hillary Clinton is really planning to run for president in two years, she can now add “shoe-dodging” to her presidential preparation portfolio. Although the current chief executive, Barack Obama has to this point not endured the awkward moment of having a shoe or two thrown at him, his predecessor, George W. Bush, barely flinched as he dodged not one but two shoes, flung at him by an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad in 2008. Neither Bush nor Clinton were touched. The score to this point: Politicians 3, Shoe-Throwers 0.
All joking aside, these are very serious matters. Beginning with the 2008 incident, at a joint news conference by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi stood up, yelled “This is the farewell kiss, you dog,” in Arabic (it was Bush’s last trip to Iraq as president), and threw one of his shoes at him, followed by the other. Calmly and deftly like a seasoned prizefighter, Bush dodged both shoes as al-Zaidi was wrestled to the ground and apprehended.
The incident occurred in December 2008: Obama had already been elected the new president, and Bush’s second term was a month away from its official end. Zaidi was sentenced to three years in prison, but the sentence was reduced to a year and he was released after nine months, for good behavior. Thousands of Iraqis stood by their comrade, who by throwing his shoes engaged in a practice long-associated with protest.
Journalists – all people, in fact – should have a right to express their opinion. They can even be disrespectful to elected officials or candidates for office by mocking them publicly, lambasting them in newspaper articles, and drawing unflattering caricatures of them. But any form of violence – and shoe-throwing certainly fits that category – should be intolerable. That Zaidi served only nine months for throwing shoes at the sitting president of the United States, that our government did very little about it, and that Zaidi was hailed a hero afterward, is an abomination.
Fast forward to 2014, in Vegas, and Hillary Clinton didn’t know what (almost) hit her. She saw the flying shoe out of the corner of her eye, reflexively crouched, clasped her hands, and half-walked, half-danced in a circle for a couple of second, before exclaiming: “was that a bat?” When she saw her would-be assailant apprehended, she quipped: “Did someone throw something at me? Is that part of Cirque Du Soleil?” As the audience laughed, Clinton continued to ad lib: “My goodness, I didn’t know solid waste management [which she had been discussing ]was so controversial,” and ended with “”Thank goodness she didn’t play softball like I did.”
The Las Vegas Police Department, to whom the Secret Service handed the woman, reported her name is: Alison Ernst, 36 years old, and a resident of Phoenix. Astonishingly, the federal government did not press charges, and Ernst has been released!
Ernst, who was wearing sandals, the New York Daily news reported, purportedly brought the orange-and-black sneaker with her specifically to throw at Clinton.
When Mark David Chapman killed Beatles member John Lennon in 1980, one of the multiple jumbled reasons that emerged as to Chapman’s motive was so that he forever would be intertwined in history with Lennon. He is, but 34 years later, he is also still behind bars. Perhaps Zaidi and Ernst found a less punitive claim to fame: don’t kill a celebrity, just throw a shoe. It might get you a few months in jail, or in the most recent case, none at all.
Meanwhile, journalists continue to have a field day with one-liners about this latest of shoe shennanigans. As no one was hurt – and Clinton herself made light of it – it is tempting to dismiss it as a mischievous prank. Oh al-Zalidi and Ernst, you little devils, you.
But maybe one day the next political target won’t be so lucky – and it will be something far more lethal aimed at their heads. Will our Secret Service be able to handle it? Will they be adequately prepared for it? Maybe. But if all we do is send the culprits to bed without dessert, what on earth would stop them from trying that – and worse – again?