the New Yorker's not offensive, but it is mindbogglingly daft

With the New Yorker's website crashing under the rage of liberals apopleptic over its current cover (for the two readers who haven't heard: Michelle and Barack dressed in Muslim terrorist garb), many Democrats and other Obama supporters will want to talk about how offensive the New Yorker is being - but rather than harping on its insensitivity, liberals should focus on the New Yorker's flat out half-brained idiocy.

The cover may be offensive, but saying so is not in the liberal tradition, which encourages freedom of expression, even - or especially - in the form of political satire.

What liberals are probably intuiting - if not saying outright - is that the cover is just plain stupid - that is, if the New Yorker has any desire to see Obama elected president, which presumably it does.

Any Republican strategist - and a growing number of Democratic political consultants - will tell you two things about campaigns: fear makes voters vote conservative and nothing evokes fear more than a picture (no matter what clever commentary it comes with).*

Before the New Yorker publishes another image (it can publish all the words it wants - no critical voters will read them), it should absorb Drew Weston's The Political Brain, which tries - and apparently fails - to instruct liberals in how to win elections. Weston understands how the brain works - and it doesn't do so in the clever, ironic and rational way The New Yorker imagines.

As much as we'd like to think we can intellectualize our way through the world, the sad truth is that our logical frontal lobes are no match for our reptilian brain. To the emotional part of us that runs the show, fear is a powerful influencer - and when it sees a picture of the Obamas dressed like terrorists, it will send up warning signs to even the most liberal, level-headed voter.

(Think you got your reptilian brain in check? Sorry to say, that's what your rational brain likes believing - but your emotional brain functions at a subconscious level so we're all largely unaware of how it's influencing our actions in everything we do.)

That's all to say, the New Yorker has handed the McCain campaign the greatest gift they could wish for: an image that'll evoke fear in millions of Americans and sway their vote on November 4. The sad part for Obama-ites, is that there's no way to erase that image -it'll just be out there doing its dirty work.

There is one hope: Weston says that the one way to counter fear is to educate people about the power it has over them. By innoculating people to fear's effects, it somehow has less of a hold on them.

Obamans, you have your work cut out for you.

*Rick Shenkman gives a great example of the power of the image in his book "Just How Stupid are We" - where Lesley Stahl ran a piece contrasting upbeat images of Reagan with facts showing his hypocrisy. Whereas Stahl was expecting to be ripped apart by the White House, she got an ecstatic call thanking her for her piece; Reagan's PR guys knew that with every viewer what would stick were the positive images of Reagan - while the facts would quickly fade from memory.

A picture is worth a thousand words...

I agree with the blogger and previous comment that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I also think that this could be a double edged sword. Even the most conservative Republicans are rising up to defend the Obamas, and their protests about media mischaracterization will now ring true. The average apathetic American has been tired of this election for months, and this will only fuel the fervor to kick Bush out and get it over with; this incident, however the New Yorker intended it, makes the Obamas look awfully sympathetic.

a random Joe (not verified) | July 16, 2008 - 9:29am


the pen may be mightier than the sword, but a picture is worth a thousand words.  the new yorker appears to be so caught up in being intellectual that they are forgetting to be smart.

willy | July 14, 2008 - 2:54pm