Fox News Channel, Drudge Report, and other Right-leaning sources are reporting on photos taken at the White House on June 15 of official guests making an obscene gesture in front of a portrait of President Ronald Reagan.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects Americans from government abridgement of freedom of speech, and people can make this type of gesture at the White House as a political statement without being arrested or punished by the government. (If the Soviet Union had ended up “winning” the Cold War, I doubt such freedoms would be so casually exercised.) Nevertheless, it was bad manners and made the beleaguered Obama Administration look foolish yet again. According to a report today from Fox News Channel, the White House issued a statement on June 22 acknowledging that this was disrespectful behavior.
This incident reminded me of a incident concerning the official portrait of Ronald Reagan at the California State Capitol. His portrait is there because he was Governor of California from 1967-1975. He defeated an incumbent governor – Jerry Brown’s father Pat Brown – in the 1966 election, and then Jerry Brown won the office in the 1974 election after Reagan chose not to run again. (Jerry Brown was Governor of California for two terms from 1975 to 1983 and then was reelected again as Governor in 2010.)
On March 5, 1986, someone slashed the Reagan portrait in the California State Capitol from the nose to the beltline. The painting was restored, but a transparent protective casing was put over it.
No other portrait needs special protection; I found an ancient 2004 post on a now-inactive California blog commenting about this (with some foul language): One Difference Between Us and Them.
More recent attacks on Reagan likenesses have been more ambiguous in motive. As reported by the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot newspaper, one month after a bronze Ronald Reagan statue was installed in October 2011 in Newport Beach, California, an unknown culprit wrapped a chain or rope around it and tried to pull it away with a pickup truck. Perhaps the intent was ideological, but that $60,000 statue also made a tempting target for metal thieves. It was repaired, and now a city surveillance camera is operating at the site. In August 2011, a bronze bust of President Reagan was stolen from the Chapman University campus in Orange, California. Once again, metal theft was a suspected reason.
(New Incident added September 20, 2013: Temecula: Reagan Statue Damaged in Apparent Arson Fire – Riverside Press-Enterprise – September 20, 2013)
Assembly Bill 2358 is moving in the California State Legislature to authorize the installation of a privately-funded statue of Ronald Reagan in the State Capitol Building Annex. If this bill passes the legislature and is signed by Reagan’s successor Jerry Brown, the statue may become another tempting target for political activists to make a statement. (It would take some guts for metal thieves to try to steal it from the well-guarded capitol building, but more foolish things have been done there.)