"If you can't do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you do it?" Bill Maher, The New York Times, July 15, 2008
I honestly do not get this controversy about The New Yorker cover. If you haven't seen it, I'm not sure how you've missed it. But here it is (click for a larger version):
It's obviously satire, showing Michelle Obama with a big '70s Afro and Black Panther radical garb and gunfire, giving a "terrorist fist jab" to her husband, dressed in a dashiki and turban. There's an American flag burning in the Oval Office fireplace, and a portrait of Osama bin Laden above the mantel.
Basically, it's demonstrating the ridiculousness of all the goofy e-mail rumors your "low-information" voter friends may be sending around. Along the same lines of Stephen Colbert's mentions of Obama as a "secret Muslim," or Jon Stewart's nightly "Baracknophobia" segments. But many Obama supporters (and I count myself one, but certainly part company on this issue) are up in arms that someone has drawn a cartoon illustrating all these slanders that are already out there about the Obamas.
You read arguments like: "Too many voters won't read The New Yorker, they'll just see the cover and it will confirm their suspicions." "If National Review or the American Spectator had done this, what would be the difference?" "We can't afford the possibility that this will give fodder to the right-wing."
Each of those are stupid arguments. If this cartoon confirms anyone's suspicions, they weren't pulling the lever for Obama anyway. If National Review or the American Spectator had displayed this cover -- unless they're making fun of their own audience, which is unlikely -- it would have been a form of commentary about their worst fears, not satire. (And using a cartoon would be sending a decided mixed message in such an instance.) And I still don't see how this provides any fodder to any of the wingnuts that they're not already employing -- that, in fact, is the point of the satire.
For every idiot who sends this around as proof that "even the LIBERAL New Yorker thinks the Obamas are radical Muslims," I'm convinced there will be even more on-the-fence voters who see this as the satire it is, and in their minds, it takes the issue off the table: "Ha ha, Yeah, I guess those are pretty ridiculous suppositions my crazy brother-in-law keeps sending me." Even if they don't see the satire, but are offended on Obama's behalf, it makes them more sympathetic to the idea that the right-wing is slandering him, and so has the same effect.
Other than Internet fundraising and the Bush Administration's own ineptitude, the only consistently effective weapon in the progressive movement's arsenal has been satire. We'd be stupid to throw that away in the fear that someone might not see it for what it is.
Maybe I'm more loyal to The New Yorker than I am to the Obama campaign (I've been a reader and subscriber a lot longer than I've been a Democrat, I guess). But I don't think you win an election by demanding everyone on your side be as dumb as the people you're opposing. You need to be more politically savvy, you don't need to be dumber.
And if there are people crazy enough to see this cartoon cover as confirmation of their suspicions that Barack and Michelle Obama are Huey P. Newton and Angela Davis for the iPod generation, maybe they'll subscribe to The New Yorker. They may think they're getting Sean Hannity in print, but they'll really be getting Seymour Hersh and Hendrik Hertzberg. and there's a nice poetic justice in that.
The title of the cover, by the way, as reported on the ToC is "The Politics of Fear." Prescient, that.
Another thing I don't get: all the talk about Obama "moving toward the center" -- or moving rightward, leaving the center in the rearview mirror, in some people's eyes.
On almost all of the issues cited, as he said himself, if people think he's now moving to the center, they haven't been listening to him. He was already on record as believing that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual's right to bear arms (rather than a state militia's collective right, as I believe). He was already on record that some crimes (including the rape of a child, although he'd always included "and murder" in that formula) could warrant the death penalty, whereas I don't believe the state has any right to commit revenge murder on behalf of citizens. And Obama was already on record that local institutions, some of them faith-based (e.g., churches) often provide the most effective social services for the population that most needs them. (A position with which I agree; my own politically liberal Episcopal parish's food pantry relies in part on federal funds in order to hand out groceries to people who need them.)
Only on the new FISA law can I see signs of shifting positions, and I admit I don't know enough about the details (other than the telecom immunity) to judge whether this newer law really is better than the older law or not, and whether telecom immunity was worth getting it. I suspect I'd disagree with Obama's position here, too, but maybe not. However, I'm pretty sure it was the wrong choice politically, and will show up in lackluster fundraising at exactly the time Obama can't afford lackluster fundraising.
Speaking of fundraising, that wasn't a flip-flop. Or if it was, it was probably a good one. (And we've had almost eight years of a president who refused to change his mind about anything, so I don't see a foolish consistency being anything other than what Emerson said it was.) He hadn't committed to public financing, just to exploring it, And I think -- if he can remain an inspiring candidate people want to donate to, which is a big if -- he made the right call there. Public financing from the actual public really is better than forced spending, if you've got a wide enough number of contributors participating. Otherwise, it's just special interest money. The McCain campaign tried to portray Obama's decision to eschew public financing of his campaign as evidence that he's just another typical Washington politician -- which hardly flies. After all, he's the first presidential candidate to turn public campaign money down since the program was created in 1971.
Finally, among the things I also don't understand is the lingering animosity between Obama and Clinton supporters. I mean, I get it, but it was way out of proportion throughout the primaries and continues to be even now. I voted for Obama in the primary (my first choice, Edwards, having dropped out); the person I'm closest to voted for Clinton. We were both fine with that, and both said we'd be happy to vote for either of them in the general election.
But we're obviously off in some fantasy land, because to read the online commentary, at least, Hillary is an angry, conniving witch who is willing to say anything or do anything to get elected. And Barack is an unqualified empty suit who is willing to say anything or do anything to get elected. He's a confirmed misogynist. Bill and Hillary are lifelong racists. And I'm like...huh?
What I would find amusing if it didn't show signs of so many people I know and respect becoming so seriously unhinged is that most of the critiques of one side against the other are near mirror images, or at least cracked mirror images. Hillary supporters see misogyny in every anti-Hillary statement during the campaign -- of which there was some, sometimes a lot, from the pundits, to be certain -- but don't see any racism at all in Bill's or Hillary's (or even Geraldine Ferraro's) comments that alluded to race and racial lines in voting. Obamaniacs see racism and the assumption of white privilege in every utterance of the Clinton campaign -- but can't even hear themselves when they say really hateful things about Hillary Clinton that were probably last said when they were 15 and screaming at their mothers because she wouldn't let them stay out late on a school night.
Or, to put it another way, what Democrats liked about either of these candidates is one-half of what was Bill Clinton's appeal for them. For some, his policy wonkery made him a superb president, and they see how his wife shares that passion for the details. For others, he was an inspiring speaker and a personable character, and they want Obama because he makes them feel passionate about politics again (or for the first time, for many of them). Although I'm sure Bill doesn't see it this way, Hillary and Barack were each running against the other half of Bill's personality that people found appealing.
NB: Given what we've had in the years since, I miss having someone smart like him as president, but I was never that thrilled with him when he was in office. His returning to Arkansas during the campaign to deny a mentally retarded man a stay of execution was, for me, the equivalent of Obama's FISA vote. And when he signed DOMA -- and then crowed about it in campaign ads on Christian radio stations -- I figured he was about as ideologically pure as, well, Obama's critics are now calling him.
In fact, now that I've gone there, I suppose I have viewed both Hillary and Barack this year with some ambivalence, and therefore find the charges of sexism and racism so overwrought. After all, both candidates have trashed my demographic's full equality, but you don't see me running for the door marked "Nader." Or feeling much sympathy for the other poor put-upon folks being told to stand in line for their issues.
I don't think Hillary lost because of sexism; I think she lost because (a) she's been a polarizing figure all her public life, and had the highest negatives of any of the Democratic candidates, and (b) she ran a stupid campaign after Super Tuesday. She had a senior strategist who hadn't grokked that the Democratic primaries awarded delegates in proportion to the primary results, and couldn't figure out how to win caucus states, so didn't really try. She also had way too much infighting on her campaign to wage an effective general election battle.
She lost, in other words, to someone who proved to be a better politician, and so I guess I'm glad he won. I'm hoping (and voting, and contributing on the premise that) he can trounce John McCain as well. He wasn't my first choice when all this began, and we may well look back on this as yet another stupid nomination by a party that can't win even the unloseable elections. ("Here's an idea: let's nominate a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts who actively protested against fellow soldiers in the Vietnam War. If we remind people he fought in it, that's all they'll remember." Uh huh.) This year may best be remembered as the year the Democrats nominated a little-known black senator from urban Chicago, a self-described "skinny kid with big ears and a funny name" (and an even funnier middle name), and we'll have to add Obama as a partner to the firm of Mondale, Dukakis & Kerry, losers-at-elections. Maybe not.
So have we ended up nominating a John F. Kennedy this year or an Adlai Stevenson? Only history (and the election results) will tell.
Derek: I am one of those who feel that the intense focus on the cartoon, overlooking the outstanding article on Obama's history and rise reeks of what's wrong in America with media coverage of the election process. The article is fascinating in light of how Obama has positioned himself to the public over the past year and is worthy of discussion. I wouldn't be so quick to discount that.
Oh, and as for your comment that he is a 'better politician'... I agree, in that he understood better than Hillary what the American people wanted to hear. What worries me is that it reeks of lies and deception to me and will prove to be an impossible set of goals to achieve. I found Hillary to be rather refreshing in her candor but now understand it's just not what the people wanted to hear. They don't want to know that change will be challenging and difficult, they just want someone to smile and say 'everything will be OK and I'll take care of it... move along.' The attention to this cartoon is a perfect example of how much attention the average voter has been giving, and will give to the election.