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Cover charges

If Obama's campaign is upset by a magazine satire, what will it do when the real attacks begin?

July 15, 2008

Let's be frank. People sophisticated enough to read, say, newspaper editorials are smart enough to know that the New Yorker's cover art this week -- portraying Barack Obama as a be-turbaned Muslim and wife Michelle as an Afro-sporting terrorist with an AK-47 across her back -- is a work of satire. But what about the millions of dumb Americans who will think otherwise?

Obama's campaign is deeply worried about the legions of morons who they apparently believe make up the heart of this great nation. Obama spokesman Bill Burton helpfully interpreted the sensibilities of these uneducated masses when he said Monday, "Most readers will see [the cover] as tasteless and offensive. And we agree." Republican nominee-apparent John McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, seemingly too bored with the controversy to come up with an original epithet, simply agreed that the cover was "tasteless and offensive."

Also offended by all the tastelessness was Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a fervent Obamaphile, who went on CNN on Monday to call for a boycott of this week's issue of the magazine. What Parks, Burton and myriad critics across the blogosphere agree on is that, yes, people who subscribe to the New Yorker are probably smart enough to understand the concept of satire, but the issue will be seen by clueless people at newsstands nationwide -- and they will come to the dangerous conclusion that, well, some artist hired by the New Yorker thinks Obama is a Muslim, his wife is a terrorist, he uses the American flag for kindling and he'd put a portrait of Osama bin Laden in the Oval Office. It's terrifying to imagine the impact this might have on the campaign.

Even before Jonathan Swift modestly proposed in 1729 that poverty-stricken Irish peasants could solve their money problems by selling their children as food for English aristocrats, most people understood that one way to demolish an opponent's argument was to carry it to extremes.

It may be that there are some spectacularly literal-minded Americans who will see the New Yorker's over-the-top portrayal of Obama as a confirmation of their worst fears. But then, they weren't going to vote for him anyway.

The real mudslinging of this year's presidential campaign won't even start until after the party conventions in August, but it's already beginning to seem as though the Obama camp is a trifle thin-skinned. If it reacts this way to a cartoon drawn by a sympathizer who was mocking the outrageous slurs that have been directed at the candidate, what are they going to do when the Republicans start sharpening their artists' pencils?

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