About That New Yorker Cover

     The best political cartoon I ever saw was Paul Conrad’s piece that showed President Reagan tying off an arm like a junkie and shooting up with a bayonet at the end of a machinegun. This was during Reagan’s crusade to get more money and weapons for the death squads in El Salvador and the drug-dealing Contras. Conrad’s toon was so powerful I couldn’t believe the L.A. Times ran it.
     So it’s hard for me to get agitated about this week’s New Yorker cover, a much weaker piece. Barry Blitt’s piece is insensitive, and it won’t help Barack Obama, but that’s no reason to criticize a political cartoon. Blitt’s piece is weaker because it’s a bank shot. Its real target does not appear in the cartoon – and Americans are such political Rubes that millions of them won’t get it.
     Conrad’s piece attacked Reagan head on – his addiction to violence, his funding of death squads that traded cocaine for American weapons.
     Blitt’s cartoon does not satirize Barack and Michelle Obama – it satirizes a racist, fear-mongering distortion of the Obamas that is hawked by the venomous dolts who run the Republican Party today.
     But these venomous dolts are not in the cartoon. Too many Americans won’t get it, because Americans are – pardon me for being subtle here – not very politically sophisticated.
     In presidential elections, Americans vote for the guy they like the best. We vote for the cool guy.
George W. Bush did not win two elections because Americans like his policies, or what he pretended his policies would be. They elected him because Al Gore and John Kerry ran stupid campaigns and Americans thought Bush was cooler than they were.
     That’s why we elected Bill Clinton, too. In fact, it’s why we elected every president since World War II.
     We elected Ike because we credited him with winning World War II. You can’t get any cooler than that.
     We elected Kennedy because he was cooler than Nixon. We elected LBJ because it was close enough to Kennedy’s death that we had to, but when LBJ realized he wasn’t cool anymore, he refused to run again.
     We elected Nixon because he was cooler than what Hubert Humphrey had become by the end of his long, otherwise decent career.
     We wouldn’t elect Jerry Ford because he got his job in an uncool way.
     We thought Reagan was cooler than Jimmy Carter, and millions of Americans still love Reagan, not because of anything he accomplished, but because they think he was cool.
     Barring extraordinary circumstances, such as Watergate or a major war, Americans will always vote for the cool guy.
     It’s remarkable that America seems on the verge of electing Obama, despite our long history of racism, but this has nothing to do with his policies. It’s because Barack Obama is the coolest candidate we’ve had in 48 years. Well, that, and because George W. Bush has proven himself to be a vicious dork.
     If Blitt’s cartoon does hurt Obama, it’s not because it criticizes any real thing about him – it’s because it makes fun of his coolness. For proof of this theory, look no further than the pop charts.
     Rap, or hip hop, is musically moronic and lyrically offensive. Why does it sell like hotcakes? (Aside from the fact that Americans have no better taste in music than we do in presidents.) It’s because millions of white kids think black dudes are cool, and rap has been around long enough now that a lot of those kids are old enough to vote.
     In fact, the number of white kids who think black dudes are cool almost certainly exceeds the number of virulent racists left in America today. That’s a terrific trend, and it has nothing to do with democracy, justice, or politics. It’s pure coolness.
     How unsophisticated are Americans? Well, have you heard a single person – on TV, radio, newspapers, in the office or over the backyard fence – talk about the long article that Ryan Lizza wrote about Obama for this week’s New Yorker? Aside from Terri Gross’ interview with Lizza on NPR, I haven’t heard a single word about it. Yet Lizza’s article has for more bearing on who Barack Obama is, how he got that way, and how we may expect him to govern, than Blitt’s cartoon does.
     But Americans don’t want to know things. We are used to having things easy. We want to look at pictures. We don’t want to read, or think, or deal with reality we don’t understand.
     Americans want to think they’re cool. We want to be with the cool guys.
     Obama’s not elite; he’s cool. Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Garnett, Eric Clapton, 50 Cent and Samuel L. Jackson are elite too, aren’t they? It’s cool to be elite.
     That would take the wind out of that phony code word in about four seconds.
     Obama should respond to questions from our moronic press about the New Yorker cover by saying, “Oh, really? I haven’t heard about it.” Then he should smile just a little and move on.
     That’s the way a cool guy would handle it.

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