While disagreeing with Barack Obama on maybe three-fourths of his so-far enunciated political views, I actually like and admire the guy, perhaps as eloquent a speaker and alert an intellect as has pursued the presidency in my lifetime.
I don’t think he’s a messenger from God, though. And that’s at least one reason I don’t line up with those now carrying on over a New Yorker cover like some fundamentalist Muslims did after a Danish newspaper carried cartoons that — in their view — made light of the Prophet Mohammed, sacrilegiously holding him up to ridicule in front of the world.
The angered crowd in this country seems likewise to think Obama is off limits, that he is too high up there to have to endure the slings and arrows of satire, although one thing I can say for them is that unlike the extreme Muslim protesters, they have not killed anyone yet, or threatened to, or quite demanded censorship.
Mostly what they have done is make bad, overly sensitive arguments. Glance at the cover of this pointedly liberal, highly sophisticated magazine that’s always devoted itself at least partly to humor– it has the best cartoons to be found anywhere — and you’ll note that it’s really not trashing Obama at all.
The cartoon cover does portray him as a kind of anti-American terrorist bumping fists with a wife made up as a gun-toting radical, but those who gasp that the magazine is furthering scary lies about the man need to take a couple of aspirin, lie down somewhere and recover from their obtuse literalness.
The opposite is true — the magazine is taking a shot at the people who have ginned up nonsensical claptrap about the Democratic presidential candidate. You see, ladies and gentlemen now chafing over this thing, that’s the way satire often works. It takes what its creators consider a stupidity or iniquity of some sort and puts it center stage, perhaps exaggerating it, so that the rest of us can catch onto its true nature, or maybe just have a hearty laugh at what we already recognize as doltish.
My suspicion is that New Yorker readers aren’t likely to be terribly confused, but maybe the fear is that some witless, lunatic-fringe sort will pass a newsstand someplace, note the cover out of the corner of his eye, and then rush home, screaming to his wife, "Martha, Martha, it’s true — Obama is an Islamic-fascist al-Qaeda member, and his wife is a home-grown gun hand, and I now know this for a fact because, guess what? — I saw a drawing on the cover of a magazine!"
Excuse me if I somehow doubt this will occur with significant frequency or that the handwringing derives from much other than a sense of his devout followers that any portrayal of Obama ought somehow to trace a halo around his head. I say this without insisting that everything that passes itself off as satire is just great. Satirically intended messages can be tasteless, obscene, ill-informed, illogical, mean, propagandistic, humorless and worse.
It does not follow they should be eliminated any more than any other form of public discussion, and those on the left ought to be particularly cautious in expressing trepidation at this style of voicing opinions, seeing as how in recent years it has been chiefly employed to beat up on George W. Bush.
Do a quick scan of the Internet, and along with all the utterly serious digs at Bush, you will find satire, lots and lots of it, much of it insistent on his supposed lack of intelligence, dishonesty and blood-thirstiness. A not atypical piece I ran across had him bombing Florida to bring about regime change and democracy there and saying this would be in the country’s "finest moral tradition."
Funny? Insightful? I don’t think so, but political satire is in this country’s finest free-speech tradition, it’s important to what we are as a people, and Obama’s supporters should understand he is not immune to it. They ought also to understand he shouldn’t be.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)