Obama and the Politics of Fear
Barack Obama may have youth and hue, he may exude charm and charisma, but he lacks intellect and nous, experience and integrity. He is a popular puppet on a sinister string of Democrat imprecision and hypocrisy. He is wedded to state intervention, corporatism and big government. He is committed to endless government programmes to ‘help’ individuals, with little awareness of costs or understanding of economy. It is not clear what his policies are on anything, for he is one of Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns. Or he may be an unknown unknown. Whichever, if he were elected to the office of the most powerful man in the world, the world would take a collective intake of breath, and wait.
There has been an outcry about this cartoon in the New Yorker magazine, which has hitherto been very supportive of Mr Obama's presidential campaign. Even the McCain camp called it ‘tasteless and offensive’. It is entitled ‘The Politics of Fear’, and depicts the Obamas standing in the Oval Office in front of a fireplace in which an American flag burns. A picture of Osama bin Laden hangs over the mantelpiece.
Mr Obama, wearing sandals, a dishdasha robe and turban, is giving his wife a ‘fist bump’ – a hip greeting that one Fox News presenter said had been dubbed a ‘terrorist fist jab’. Mrs Obama, in military fatigues, has an Afro hairstyle, AK47 over her shoulder and a bandolier of ammunition strung across her chest. The themes are manifestly terrorism and insurgency.
Mr and Mrs Obama profess the Christian faith, though he was born of Muslim parents. It is not clear at which point Mr Obama had his Damascus Road experience, though it appears to have been sufficiently experiential to persuade him to abandon the last prophet and embrace the Son of God. Good for him, even if he does keep company with some distasteful church leaders.
But Cranmer is not sure what all the fuss is about over this cartoon. It is, after all, a cartoon, and the hysteria with which it is being greeted is akin to the outrage expressed by the Islamic world to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. No, of course Mr Obama is not a prophet, and lampooning him is not prohibited in the Qur’an. But satire is a very healthy manifestation in a free country, and ridiculing one’s politicians has a very long and distinguished heritage. And neither is simply associated with democracy; evidence of political satire has been discovered in ancient cultures like those of Greece and Rome. Politicians feed on people's grievances, promoting divisive, parochial and sectarian interests, and using prejudice and fear is the most effective campaigning tool in the armoury. It is, as the editor of the magazine states, ‘part of what we do, and it is meant to bring things out into the open, to hold up a mirror to prejudice, the hateful, and the absurd’.
Yet it is interesting that satirists pussyfoot around Hilary Clinton for fear of being labelled sexist, and tread equally carefully around Barack Obama for fear of being labelled racist. While John McCain’s age appears to present no problems at all for the satirists who have no problem with the ‘ageist’ label.
When a candidate offers optimism and hope, inducing fear is the only tried and tested antidote. It is not, of course, ideal, but the only antidote to fear is love, and no election has been won with promises of perfect love. The concept of ‘positive campaigning’ is a myth created by politicians to induce a feel-good factor to make us respect them. Plagued with the perpetual drip, drip, drip of sleaze accusations, lies, hypocrisy and the ‘snouts-in-the-trough’ mantra perfected by the anti-establishment Guido Fawkes, politicians above all professions need a makeover to ‘decontaminate the brand’.
Yet a little perspective is called for.
Which is worse? Being portrayed in Islamic dress surrounded by terrorist allusions, or given the eyes of a demon and equated with Satan? Tony Blair famously endured the latter, William Hague was humiliated under the permed coiffure of Margaret Thatcher, Michael Howard will forever be associated with Transylvania, and dear Ann Widdecombe will live with Doris Karloff until the day she dies.
So why is this Obama cartoon considered so utterly beyond the pale?
Is it because he is a practising Christian battling the smears that he is a radical Muslim? Is it because ‘Hussein’ is his middle name, and any portrayal of him as a Muslim shames him? The last point may be significant, for the Obama camp has created a website www.fightthesmears.com to debunk the rumours. It has also reported that they have paid Google so that searches such as ‘Obama and Muslim’ direct people to sites that rebut the smears.
His Grace thinks the man ought to protest a little less, lest people start to think they have hit a very raw nerve.
Or does Barack Obama have something to fear?