Monday, July 21, 2008

The Obama Candidacy

Yesterday, the New York Times published yet another parsing of the now infamous New Yorker cover:

This time we hear from Lee Siegel about how this cover somehow constitutes something to get very very upset about. This time because it isn't good satire:
It was a gnawing permanence of everyday life that the satirist lampooned — i.e., punctured — to provide a general catharsis. . . .If you accept this definition of satire, then the reason The New Yorker’s cover seems to have fallen short is precisely that it brought out into open, respectable space an idea of the Obamas that is still, happily, considered contemptible. The portrait of them as secret Muslims, in cahoots with terrorists and harboring virulent anti-American sentiments, exists for the most part either on the lunatic fringe or in what some might call the lunatic establishment: radically partisan entities like Fox News. If, on the other hand, this newspaper began politely referring to Senator Obama’s radical Islamic sympathies, then a full-blown exaggeration of that insinuation into ridiculous satire would be just what the doctor ordered.

In other words either the new Yorker should have a) ignored the unpleasant but not mainstream stupidity that figures Obama as the 21st Century Manchurian candidate or b) depicted the holders of that belief in an obviously negative manner.

Option A is out of the question--there will be lots of money spent making sure no one is unaware that some people believe crazy things about Barack Obama.

Option B, it would seem to me, is just one technique among many for dealing with the fact that A is not a viable option.

Siegel concludes his little piece:

By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon.

Siegel points to Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as a more well-done satire . . . one less likely, we imagine, to raise the hackles of sensitive readers.

Of course, the opposite is true. Many 19th-century readers considered a Modest Proposal to be a product of incipient insanity (Swift was later declared incompetent). Readings of "A Modest Proposal" have caused public disturbances.

Siegel's piece is yet another of the tiresome rationalizations that people roll out to excuse what is really a pathological strain in the whole Obama phenomenon.

Whether or not the New Yorker cover is good satire (it's OK, in my opinion, but it's not Swift) what generated this furor is not anything special about the cover: it's the extreme, irrational sensitivity of the Obamas and their supporters.

Still, at this late date, we have Obama-ites and supposedly detached observers who insist that Hillary Clinton talked about Barack Obama getting assassinated when she did no such thing. (Rather, certain people in the Obama camp, and certain people in the media, have some unhealthy fantasies regarding Mr. Obama, but that's another facet to the Obama phenomenon.)

The increasing perception is that the Obamas and their supporters are a bunch of sissies, who can't help but react "angrily" (a word I see often used to describe their spokespeople) to any form of criticism or disagreement that they deem, ex cathedra, to be "over the line."

In many ways, Obama looks like a shoe-in to win this race. McCain is a very weak candidate. The Obama campaign has shown itself to be capable. The tide definitely seems to be turning in the Democratic direction.

But the sort of sensitivity--or is it arrogance?--that leads to these sorts of dust-ups seems to be a distinct (glaring) weakness in the candidacy. I hope Obama has the sense to put a leash on it.

I should add that I will be voting for Mr. Obama come November and that I preferred him to Hillary Clinton in the primary. Lunatic fringe links that may be at the top of this page are strictly the responsibility of Google.

[Some small edits, mostly spelling. One added sentence 7/22/08]