The cover of this week's edition of The New Yorker magazine features a cartoon of Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Sen. Barack Obama with his wife, Michelle.
Cartoonist Barry Blitt's rendering is supposed to summarize and parody the persistent urban myths that continue to circulate about the Obamas, on the Internet and elsewhere. The drawing, shown here, depicts Sen. Obama in Muslim garb and his wife decked out in combat boots, an Afro, a bandolier and an AK-47 -- an inescapable invocation of the radical Black Panther Party of the late 1960s.
It would be hard to browse the Internet these days without encountering the persistent falsehoods that cartoonist Blitt parodies here: that the Christian Sen. Obama is secretly a Muslim educated at radical madrassas overseas who took his oath of office on a Quran and is not qualified to serve as president because of his foreign birth (he was actually born in the state of Hawaii); that his wife is an unpatriotic militant who rails against "Whitey," etc.
This just-below-the-radar rumor campaign is substantial enough that the Obama campaign has set up its own Web site just to debunk the stuff.
Yet so convinced are today's politicians of the simple-mindedness of the average voter that Sen. Obama's supporters have reacted with outrage to the cover of this reliably liberal magazine, as though The New Yorker has suddenly been taken over by right-wing racists.
"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right wing critics have tried to create," railed Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, this week, "but most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive, and we agree."
Showing some unusual spunk, the magazine's editors have declined to apologize.
Good. They should stick to their guns ... as it were.
The best way to deal with an underground rumor campaign is indeed to rebut it publicly, in the light of day, inviting anyone who wishes to substantiate such malarkey to come forth, give their names and present their evidence.
As syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell wrote on July 8 -- in the course of debunking a fake "Obama is not a U.S. citizen" column falsely attributed to him, "What is also puzzling is why some people find it necessary to make up false statements and attribute those statements to someone else. If they think that the person they oppose is wrong -- and why else would they oppose him? -- then why is it necessary to make up something, when they can just show that what he actually said is wrong? Making something up is a confession of both intellectual and moral bankruptcy."
Indeed. Plenty that Sen. Obama has said, and done, and promised to do, is meat for skeptical analysis. Why make stuff up?
The New Yorker has a proud 80-year career of pithy analysis and satire. Those who do not understand this are free to head to any public library or bookstore to peruse one of the multi-decade collections of their work. It is not up to the magazine to dumb down its content to the level of the most literal-minded critic -- who has probably never bought or read the publication and never will.
What will be interesting to watch is the level of outraged braying that will issue forth when the magazine -- as it almost certainly will -- parodies Republican nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain in turn, probably portraying him as some wild-eyed flyboy about to bomb peaceful Tehran.
We suspect Sen. McCain will thank the New Yorkers for spelling his name right, while the rest of the grown-ups on the political right will shrug, shake their heads, and "move on."