Special Report

Progressive Cover

The revealing reactions to the New Yorker's satirical blunder.

By 7.15.08

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Liberals, when caught out in some violation of progressive propriety, often invoke their history of fine sentiments as a defense. Recall that Geraldine Ferraro, given what she regards as her unimpeachable record in support of all good things, was flabbergasted that anyone could see racism in her scoffing remarks at Obama's success and in her complaints about Hillary Clinton as a victim of reverse discrimination.

A rude shock of this sort is now rattling the progressive cocoon at the New Yorker. Understanding themselves as surrogates for Obama, the New Yorker editors didn't think themselves capable of offending the esteemed candidate or deviating from the canons of liberal good taste.

So the furor over their "satirical" cover depicting the Obamas as revolutionaries leaves these sharp and sophisticated editors befuddled and perhaps hurt. After all, they are obviously on the right side of history and were just doing their part to help the candidate. It will no doubt sting to be treated at fashionable parties this week as dim-witted advocates whose zeal to protect their hero has ended up damaging him.

Is this another case of liberals undone by their own cocoon mentality? The frantic explanations of David Remnick and others at the magazine would suggest so. Apparently it never occurred to them anyone might take offense, since in their minds all right-thinking people should immediately see that the images used in the cover bear no connection whatsoever to reality.

The cover was designed to expose the "prejudices" and "dark imaginings" of Obama's critics and the "absurdity" of the charges thrown at him, says Remnick to the Huffington Post, revealing his anxiety at having offended the Obama campaign.

"I can't speak for anyone else's interpretations, all I can say is that it combines a number of images that have been propagated, not by everyone on the right but by some, about Obama's supposed 'lack of patriotism' or his being 'soft on terrorism' or the idiotic notion that somehow Michelle Obama is the second coming of the Weathermen or most violent Black Panthers. That somehow all this is going to come to the Oval Office."

Dark imaginings, prejudices, idiotic notions -- it is all so obvious to Remnick. So why isn't it to everyone else?

The cover's artist, Barry Blitt, adds that he was simply illustrating how "preposterous" it is to think of the Obamas as unpatriotic and wanted to capture the "fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is." Meanwhile, journalist Clarence Page, a trusted arbiter of taste for the establishment, chips in that the cover lampoons the "crazy ignorance out there."

While an image like this seems fantastical to Remnick and company with their exalted understanding of such things, it doesn't seem fantastical to Obama's campaign operatives, who remember all too well the factual, not fantastical, image of Obama in Islamic garb that Hillary's campaign disseminated via the Drudge Report to the blue-collar hinterlands. Nor were the weeks of coverage of Obama's militant black separatist church just a fantasy to them but a fire they have yet to put out. The New Yorker cover greatly annoys them by stirring all of this back up.

Remnick argues that the cover isn't satirizing Obama but his crackpot critics. Somehow he forgot that the subject of the satire actually needs to be in it. Perhaps if the image had been restricted to the Osama portrait and flag burning in the fireplace he could have gotten away it. But mixing factual elements -- the Obamas have fist-bumped, Obama has been pictured in a turban, they did attend a black separatist church -- with fantastical ones explains its too-close-for-comfort feel.

Were the Obama campaign more restrained, it would have ignored the cover. But his staffers couldn't help themselves; their quick and sensitive reaction reveals that they know Obama's most significant liability is that many Americans continue to see him as an unknown quantity with an outside-the-mainstream philosophy and past.

Just when Obama thought that he had put his problem with elitism behind him, it rears back in the form of bumbling supporters at the New Yorker who have provided common folk with an ill-advised satirical image that cements their "crazy ignorance."

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.