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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Stupid Will Stay Stupid and the Crazy Will Stay Crazy

Maybe I've got outrage fatigue or something, because I don't get it. In fact, I wasn't even going to mention The New Yorker cover in question, but here we are on day three and this thing still has people freaking out.

In the unlikely chance that you aren't familiar with the cover by now, it's a caricature of Barack and Michelle Obama in the oval office. Michelle is dressed like a stereotypical black radical-type, with a big Angela Davis 'fro and an AK-47 on her back. Barack is dressed like Osama bin Laden. An American flag burns in the fireplace, a portrait of bin Laden hangs on the wall. To clinch it, Barack and Michelle are sharing a "terrorist fist jab."

That's right, every stupid-assed smear this side of Rev. Wright is laid out in all its ridiculous glory for all the world to see. Clearly, this is satire -- and not of the Obamas, but of the crazy and stupid people who believe all this stuff. You can't see Obama's chest, but you've got to assume he's not wearing a flag pin.

-Continued after the jump-

I can understand the Obama campaign's reaction. I doubt the outrage there is genuine. After all, here is almost every one of the smears thrown at him, right there in one place. And, where the whisper campaign comes from a shadowy, email spam source, The New Yorker has a street address. What's happening is that the magazine has become a stand-in for the mass-mailers; a tangible, brightly lit target. Team Obama can answer these anonymous smears by attacking a magazine that's put nearly every one of them on its cover.

Whether this was supposed to become the tempest in a teapot it has become is an open question, but I'm guessing no. As I said, this is "New Yorker-gate, Day III: America Freaks Out!" In fact, the outrage is in danger of overshadowing substantial news stories. You may not know this, but Barack Obama is scheduled to give a speech on Iraq and national security today. And you may not know it because we're all supposed to be freaked out over a cartoon. Wired's Threat Level blog helpfully collects a couple of representative blogosphere reactions.

John Aravosis, AMERICAblog:

A liberal publication like the New Yorker thinks it's funny to make Mrs. Obama some radical black panther, Barack Obama basically a terrorist (you'll note that he looks just like Osama bin Laden on the wall), and they're even burning the American flag in the Oval Office (that's supposed to be the White House, get it?).

They put Osama bin Laden on the wall of the Oval Office. And this is funny?

Is the New Yorker so out of touch that they don't realize that much of America, or at least too much of America, harbors these very concerns about Obama and his wife?

Jane Hamsher, FireDogLake:

... there is a striking lack of awareness of the context into which they launched it.

Fifteen percent of people in this country believe that Obama is a Muslim. You have to be really stupid to believe something like this, but as Roger Simon notes, it probably doesn't encourage people to vote for him in America today.

Most people who see this cover are just going to see the image of Obama in a turban. It reinforces a critical piece of misinformation that right wing propagandists have advanced in order to poison the political climate in this country and make it that much more difficult for a person of color to be elected president.

These people are really stupid in order to believe something like this, but they're not going to get any smarter by viewing this image.

Note what these two bloggers -- who I otherwise respect -- have to say. They aren't basing their criticism of what they think, they're basing it on what they're afraid someone else might think.

I think what might be happening is that polling is taking over some people's brains. A recent Pew poll showed that 12% of respondents still thought Barack Obama was Muslim. Worse, this number was up from 10%.

Here's the thing -- I don't even need to go look at the margin of error to know that 2% is easily within it. This isn't a rise, it's no change. In any poll, there will be a certain percentage who are just plain crazy or stupid. On this issue, that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%. In fact, in that same poll, 1% took a wild guess and said Obama was Jewish. Of course, if we add up all the wrong answers in the poll, it adds up to 40%. But some of those answers were "Don’t know - Heard different things" and "Don’t know - Haven’t heard enough." Combined, these two made up 25% of respondents -- better than half of all the wrong answers. In an America where some Christians believe other Christians aren't "real" Christians or aren't "Christian enough," a little mild confusion is understandable. They don't want to answer ""Not a Christian," but can't honestly answer "Christian," either. We've all seen the letters to the editor claiming this liberal or that isn't a "real Christian" because they support abortion rights, believe in evolution, or oppose mandatory school prayer. That these people would answer, "Well, he says he's a Christian, but not any kind of Christian my church accepts. Real Christians interpret the Bible the same way I do," shouldn't surprise anyone.

And there's an unfounded assumption in looking at this poll and freaking out over The New Yorker cover because of it. If we look at other polls, we see that Obama doesn't have a 40% unfavorable rating in any of them. All the favorables are above 50%, with some reaching into the 60% range. This means, contrary to the assumption, that some of that 40% who got Obama's religion wrong don't view Obama unfavorably -- in other words, they may not believe he's a Christian or a "real" Christian, but neither do they care.

It's my opinion that the overreaction to the NYer cover is based primarily on worry. They've seen polling that shows the race close nationally (polling that's already become dated), they see comments in their comment threads about how some won't vote Obama because of FISA or because they're Clinton extremists, but they're not seeing the forest for the trees.

If you break down the polling by electoral college votes, Obama has a healthy lead in all polls. Getting bogged down in trivia like this cartoon is a little panicky, in my opinion. We don't have to freak out. The way things stand right now, Barack Obama is still a safe bet.

That 10%-12% who think Obama's a Muslim are stupid and/or crazy. That cover illustration isn't going to drive anyone crazy. It's not going to drive anyone stupid, either. I believe that this percentage of the stupid and crazy is as low as it's ever going to be. I also believe that it's probably not going to get any bigger. I think these people are trapped in the amber of their own stubborn ignorance -- unchanged and unchangeable forever.

Luckily, there aren't enough of them to care about.


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Anok said...

I understand your point, but at the same time, when I saw it, I cringed. I reacted the way I would have reacted had the same thing been done to me, or a friend, or even McCain, for goodness sake. it was just...inappropriate, and yes I found it to be offensive, as well. I'm not "outraged" but it certainly offended my better sensibilities. Just sayin'.

markstoneman said...

I blogged about this and said I thought it was funny. The Washington Post, by the way, actually missed the satirical humor of "Dr. Strangelove" back in 1964, if you can believe that. Some people can't laugh about anything, not even nuclear holocaust. Damn shame.