The Unspoken Reasons
If you listened to NPR on Monday, poor David Remnick was raked over the coals over his editorial position regarding the now infamous New Yorker-BHO/MO cover.
Michelle Norris, the "All Things Considered" host, asked him to take the viewers through a behind-the-scenes look at how the cover actually came to be. Listen to it, because it's fascinating.
But there's a moment where he mentions the emails he's been getting (around minute 3:00):
"The kind of email I get is telling me, I get it, but I don't think so-and-so is going to get it. I don't think so-and-so in W. Virginia, or out there in the Middle West, and that to me is a false argument -- that if you can get it, why can't other people get it?
I don't think this notion that, you know, only Upper West Side Manhattan elitists can get satire. I don't think that's the case at all."
In Friendly Fire, my post on the fallout, I mentioned a Time magazine forum member mentioning precisely this State -- W. Virginia. If you were to read the left-leaning blogs, W. Virginia is mentioned over and over again, precisely this way. "I get it, but W. Virginians won't."
W. Virginia symbolises a very powerful combination in American politics: Rural. Undereducated. Blue-collar. White.
The most positive thing I can say about this, is at least they are not claiming W. Virginians are too unsophisticated as actually not to subscribe to or read the New Yorker. You'd think by their reactions, that a large chunk who paid attention to the magazine hailed from the State -- which is, of course, nonsense given their dim view of their sophistication.
No, this reaction is code for "other Americans", but W. Virginia gets to be the target of their slams because they overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary.
The irony is that the W. Virginia leans heavily Democratic. Here are the April 2008 figures:
665234 Democrats, 347760 Republicans and 156199 who are unaffiliated.
The Democratic Party is like the Republican Party, in that it is comprised of people from all sides of the economic spectrum.
But the phenomenon you are seeing here, with this handwringing worry about "W. Virginians" believing the New Yorker cover to be true ("Hey, if a Liberal magazine puts it on their cover, it must be true!"), is really not about ignorant W. Virginians.
It's about the Left of America not comfortable in acknowledging that their Party contains people who are white, and yet don't think like them.
In their ideal world, where minorities are king, and intellectual elitism is something positive, rural blue-collar white folk are akin to Martians.
Here is a demographic they cannot control, because they cannot relate to them.
In turn, the W. Virginians (who are actually stand-ins at large for this phenomenon, and can live anywhere in the US) feel this, and react accordingly by not toeing the Party line come election time.
Protein Wisdom's Jeff Goldstein wrote about this just today (Via Bitmaelstrom):
What the progressive handwringers should be doing is gleefully and full-throatedly noting the satire, then preparing to laugh at anyone who sees this as an accurate depiction of Obama. What they should be doing is enjoying a wry smile at their next cocktail party over the (presumed) idiocy of the rightwingers who might take this cover at face value, so shallow is their understanding of the literary arts.
But the real irony here is they can’t do that — and that’s precisely because their worldview is predicated on being able to control “meaning” by consensus. And one of the problems with such an incoherent method for determining meaning (by way of reliance on a given interpretive community’s ability to shout down competing interpretations), is that, at least in theory, another interpretive community can come along and claim another, diametrically opposed meaning, and — if their will to power is stronger — control the narrative by way of severing any ties to original intent.
One can't analyse it any better than that.
On the one hand, they are playing a defensive game, in what was intended to be going on the offense. By all rights, they should be laughing and cheering about the cover, which is brilliant in its satirical intent, but they cannot do that.
They are literally outraged that someone has painted the devil on the wall, because they fear and misunderstsand not the intent of the cartoon -- but a section of their own Party members and their fellow Americans at large.
It is this sense of superiority twinned with suspicion of some of their own tribe that makes the Democrats liable to these contradictions, and weaker on the topic than most Republicans.
Republicans today, and for the past 30 years, constantly poke fun at political correctness, and its sacred cows -- feminism and women, race and blacks, class and the wealthy, intelligentsia or foreigners, etc.
The Democrats are constrained to keep to rather tame topics, fearing to say the wrong thing to the wrong people, unless of course they are Republicans, white, males, the rich, the religious, patriotic, or sometimes all six.
(Unsurprisingly, President Bush is their number one target, because amongst other things he just happens to be a walking Bingo card)
Althouse asked yesterday if Obama was funny (he is not -- he's unusually ill-at-ease in speeches; not just serious from the podium, but also elegantly stiff in private), and today she queried "Why Can't We Joke About Obama?".
And the answer is:
Because the field for satire is extremely narrow for Leftists, especially for one of their own who is a minority. The New Yorker cover incident is but a harbinger of what will happen if Obama is elected.
The stinging caricatures will lose their edge, the editorials will avoid deeper insight than is warranted, and everyone will give him a pass lest the dread word "racist" raise its ugly head again.
She put it best about the current climate:
"The real explanation for the lack of jokes is some combination of the desire for Obama to win and the fear of seeming racist."
Americans are not famous for self-censorship. That is often cited as a British cultural trait, with Americans being known for their frankness, to the point of being rather gauche in speaking their mind.
If President Obama becomes fact, you can bet that Americans, no doubt led by those backwards "W. Virginians" of their worst imaginings, will tire of this need to tread carefully.
4 years is a long time to put a lid on the American lip, let alone 8.
Or is the lesson of this incident is that not just Upper West Side Manhattan elitists can project and predict about their fellow Americans?
UPDATE: Ruth Anne hits the commentary jackpot again. Here's the National Review's counterpoint cover.
"For all the irony-challenged literalists who were upset by the New Yorker's Obama-as-A-Muslim magazine cover"
So...why doesn't it hurt us as much as the New Yorker cover hurt Obama supporters?
I guess because being old and having been a pill-popping junkie, the most obvious negatives of John and Cindy McCain, are not nearly as egregious to America as being perceived a Muslim, and anti-American.
The possible realities projected by Obama and his wife are infinitely more damaging to them, and that's why you can slam McCain all you want -- the Obama slams will always be much more hurtful.
EDIT: To pre-empt the rebuttals, I realise that the NYer was pointing to the untruths about Obama being Muslim and that they hate America, whereas McCain IS old and Mrs. McCain DID have an addiction problem.
But his age doesn't prevent him from having run a vigourous campaign for 2 years, and Mrs. McCain long ago conquered her problem. If you think these are not being peddled as current facts by their opponents, though, you've clearly not been paying attention.
Both sides are doing their level best to slander the other.
But Senator Obama has a greater perception problem because his background is much more muddled.