Under the Cover of Satire
As you may have read over the weekend, the cover illustration on the new issue of The New Yorker magazine is causing quite a stir among political elites. You can see the drawing, entitled The Politics of Fear, here. It sharply caricatures the potentially radical nature of Barack and Michelle Obama’s politics, and captures the way in which voter anxieties about the couple are being exploited as an electoral tool by some right wing ideologues. I must say that my first reaction to the illustration was that it is a very smart piece of political satire, although the bin Laden portrait and American flag burning in the Oval Office fireplace are perhaps a bit of overkill.
That being said, I understand why the Obama campaign has reacted so strongly to the drawing. With the magazine cover likely to be seen ad nauseum on the internet and cable news, the satirical intent of the illustration could get lost in the broader ideological conflict being fought there daily by political surrogates from both parties. Still, while good political satire provokes (and this drawing clearly does), it can also educate. And for me, the potential for a public discussion of the underlying issues raised by The Politics of Fear outweighs the risk that some voters will see in the cover’s depiction of the Obamas not satire, but a confirmation of their private fears.

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