Who knows if they'll get this in Dubuque, but they sure aren't going to like it in Chicago: This week's New Yorker cover features an image of Michelle and Barack Obama that combines every smeary right-wing stereotype imaginable: An image of Obama in a turban and robes fist-bumping his be-afro'd wife, dressed in the military fatigues of a revolutionary and packing a machine gun and some serious ammo. Oh yes, this quaint little scene takes place in the Oval Office, under a picture of Osama bin Laden above a roaring fireplace, in which burns an American flag. All that's missing is a token sprig of arugula.
The illustration, by Barry Blitt,is called "The Politics of Fear" and, according to the NYer press release, "satirizes the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the Presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign." Uh-huh. What's that they say about repeating a rumor?
Presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke, but still: this is going to upset a lot of people, probably for the same reason it's going to delight a lot of other people, namely those on the right: Because it's got all the scare tactics and misinformation that has so far been used to derail Barack Obama's campaign — all in one handy illustration. Anyone who's tried to paint Obama as a Muslim, anyone who's tried to portray Michelle as angry or a secret revolutionary out to get Whitey, anyone who has questioned their patriotism— well, here's your image.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton called it "tasteless and offensive" and, according to Jake Tapper at ABC, another high-profile Obama supporter called it "as offensive a caricature as any magazine could publish."
The companion article by Ryan Lizza, who has written extensively about the campaign, traces Obama's early career and rise through Chicago politics. It's very long (18 pages!) and probably won't thrill a lot of Democratic party faithful, either, since it advances the image of Obama as a skilled and calculating politician who rose by becoming a master of the game:
"[P]erhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them....he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game."
Is it the New Yorker's job to write uniformly flattering profiles of Obama? Do they have a duty to avoid controversial imagery that plays off the most dogged and damaging campaign smears? Of course not. Still, as Tapper says, there are probably "some angry, angry people in Chicago right now." Not to mention Washington, New York, and maybe even Dubuque.
Update: Artist Barry Blitt defends the cover, saying that "It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is." See his full statement (and previous covers) here.
Update II: New Yorker editor David Remnick responds in our exclusive interview, calling the cover "satire" targeting not Obama, but the "absurdity" of the rumors flying about him.
See the full cover below: