Politics & Policy

Tasteless & Offensive

The New Yorker's wrong view of the Right.

When the week’s New Yorker arrived with the caricature on the cover of Barack and Michelle Obama in Muslim and Commie guerrilla garb respectively, fist-bumping in an Oval Office where Osama bin Laden’s picture hangs over the mantle, Obama’s campaign released a statement.

The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.

It is, indeed, a tasteless and offensive attack — on conservatives.

The New Yorker is right about one thing: If you’re a subscriber, you probably get the satire the magazine intended, even if the image itself has all the subtlety of a Michael Bay movie. The problem is not that the typically literate New Yorker reader won’t understand that the magazine isn’t earnestly portraying Obama as a member of al-Qaeda. The problem is that liberal media types think this caricature of Obama actually exists in the heads of “right-wing critics.” Engage most real-life “right wing critics” for a few minutes and you’ll realize the contention is laughable, but instead of a reality check, The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum does The New Yorker one better, making this observation: “If artist Barry Blitt had some real cojones, he would have drawn the same cover but shown it as a gigantic word bubble coming out of John McCain’s mouth — implying, you see, that this is how McCain wants the world to view Obama. But he didn’t. Because that would have been unfair.”

Too bad Drum was being sarcastic, because “that would have been unfair” is exactly right. Remember when John McCain upbraided a radio host who referred to Obama by his unfortunate middle name at a McCain campaign event? How about when the North Carolina GOP ran ads using footage of Jeremiah Wright, and McCain told the state party to put a sock in it? Did Drum not notice that the McCain campaign immediately released a statement condemning the New Yorker cover? Can Drum produce any evidence that shows that the New Yorker cover is “how McCain wants the world to view Obama”? Drum doesn’t — and can’t — point to a single thing that John McCain has said or done that to support this conclusion.

In fairness to Drum, you should read his swift condemnation of the caricature in Rolling Stone last month that had a screaming McCain inside a tiger cage being poked with sharp sticks by Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush dressed as north Vietnamese in black pajamas. Wait, Drum didn’t write a post condemning Rolling Stone?

Well, at least the Obama campaign issued that statement taking Rolling Stone to task for the tasteless McCain illustration. It was particularly brave of the campaign, when one considers that the magazine’s coverage of Obama couldn’t be any more fawning if it were bylined by Bambi. What’s that you say? Obama’s campaign didn’t release a statement condemning Rolling Stone for their “tasteless and offensive” McCain caricature?

But surely, Obama’s dealt with a lot of other unfair attacks in this campaign from “right wing critics”? With the first black presidential candidate there has been a fair amount of racial politics at work. So Obama was probably pretty upset when those right-wingers said that his victory in the South Carolina primary was irrelevant, because Jesse Jackson won that primary (and wink, wink, nudge, nudge — they’re both black!). Oops. That was Bill Clinton.

Then there are the “right wing critics” who question his insanely convoluted answer to the question “why don’t you wear a flag pin?”; that his wife said she wasn’t proud of her country until it became obvious that her husband had a good shot at the White House; that he’s had a close relationship with Bill Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist. Okay, fine those were the work of “right wing critics” — and they had some legitimate concerns on those counts.

As for the baseless charge that Obama is a Muslim, let’s look at some actual data rather than base our preconceptions on a cartoon. Back in late March, Pew did a survey. One of the questions they asked was “Do you know if Obama is a … Christian, Muslim or don’t know?”

The headline everyone ran with from the study was of course, “Poll: 1 in 10 think Obama is Muslim.” But who, exactly, is it that thinks Obama is a Muslim? According to Pew, 14 percent of Republicans, 10 percent of Democrats and eight percent of Independents thought Obama was Muslim. However, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percent, so statistically we’re pretty even. Further, the study reported that 54 percent of Republicans correctly identified Obama as a Christian, compared to 52 percent of Democrats. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans said they didn’t know Obama’s religion, compared to the 34 percent of Democrats who said the same.

So this leads us to a fairly inescapable conclusion, obvious to anyone who’s toiled in the salt mines of public-opinion polling: there’s a large cross section of the American people who are not very well-informed.

And that cross section appears to be a much more diverse sample of people than one might think. For instance, after this week we now know that smarty-pants New York magazine editors are often no less ignorant, and even more prejudicial, than the trailer-dwelling backwoodsmen in West Pennsyltucky, whose perceived mindset they eagerly skewer in their clumsy attempts at appearing urbane and sophisticated.

America, it seems, is truly egalitarian even in its faults. Contrary to what Barack Obama and The New Yorker would have you believe, no political party or ideology can lay claim to a lion’s share of ignorance. And everyone should expect to see plenty more of it between now and November.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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