Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dept. of Misdirection: Obama and the New Yorker

One of the funny things about a subscription to the New Yorker, which we at the Egg had maintained since our youth, is that it does not get the magazine to you very quickly.  Indeed, it is usually on the newsstands several days, or even a week, before it arrives in your mailbox.  (This is an irritating feature in a weekly magazine.)

The result is that we had read all about the NYer's Obama cover, and even shared our own thoughts about it, before we ever opened the July 21 issue.  Having now done so, we now see something clearly:  the cover is a dumb stunt, which -- whatever its editorial intent -- serves to distract public attention from the genuinely disturbing article inside.  And no, we don't mean Denby's review of The Dark Knight.

Ryan Lizza's extended piece on the early stages of Obama's political career, aptly titled Making It, depicts an unfamiliar aspect of the Illinois senator:  typical politician.  Obama comes across as ambitious, cutthroat, temperamental and  -- most surprisingly -- ungrateful, at least to his early supporter Alice Palmer.  He comes to Chicago, a town notorious for its tough politics, and sets off many of the same fireworks he has set of nationally this year -- and even then, early on, he is plainly contemplating a run for national office.  He is plainly bored with local politics, and has bad relations with the black political class.  He makes naive mistakes, and learns hard lessons from them.  He seizes every advantage, even when it risks hurting his own party.  He redraws voting districts to reflect the peculiar demographics to which he appeals -- black, but not too black, with a dose of limousine liberalism.

In one scene, which seems difficult to reconcile with Obama's cooler-than-thou demeanor, he gets into a a shouting match with legislator Rickey Hendon on the floor of the state senate.  The two nearly come to blows before they are separated by a female staffer -- but not before Obama (who turns out to be a trained boxer) shouts something on the order of "I'm gonna kick your ass."

Not incidentally, we also get brief vignettes concerning some of Obama's controversial decisions.  His relationships with the ex-Weathermen, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorhn, don't look like much of anything; they had become advisors to the mayor, "long acceptable in polite Chicago society" (if such a thing exists).  And before joining Trinity UCC, Obama worries not about the pastor's inflammatory pulpit oratory, but about the possibility that the congregation may be perceived in the black community as "too upwardly mobile."

The article is a bracing corrective to the comically worshipful coverage Obama often gets from the press (see under:  McCain's whining, below).  That does not, necessarily, make it "anti-Obama."   For the most part, the New Yorker is  pretty friendly to Obama's candidacy, even embarrassingly so.   But this portrait removes some of the phony halo, and lets us see the real man underneath. 

All of which makes the kerfluffle over the cover seem sort of overblown.  As we have said, on several occasions, to Islamic rioters burning the Danish flag:  It's a cartoon, you nitwits.  Get over it.  And yet the media buzz has been all about the cover -- which means it has missed the real point.  When, this week, Ryan Lizza was denied a seat on the plane to accompany Obama to the Middle East, the chattering classes at HuffPo and The Swamp saw it as revenge for the cover.

Nonsense.  It's not the cover, it's the content.   Obama apparently liked the halo, and is less than thrilled by the thought that we might see him as flesh-and-blood. 

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