Let’s face it: Barack Obama has to be the most exotic candidate running for the presidency in recent memory. He describes himself as the kid with the funny name who could only hope to be president in a country like America. When we examine his biography, you see that this biracial, Hawaiian born, son of a single mother, and former community organizer is not your regular candidate for president. Add to this that his father was a non-practicing Muslim who left him at the age of 2, a mother who was quite possibly agnostic, and the fact that Obama attended Catholic school in Indonesia and, again, he is not your regular candidate for president. We also know that for a period of close to 5 years, Obama was raised by his maternal grandparents, Toot and Gramps. When it comes to the race question, Obama is not your normal pro civil rights leader. In fact, his candidacy has, as is often stated, transcended racial politics. He has been in the U.S. Senate for less than 4 years, and is only 46 years of age, which would make him, along with Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, one of the youngest presidents. A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law, coming from a family of modest means, and you have a true American story—potential Hollywood material.
Yesterday, the New Yorker published a cartoon on its front page depicting Obama in Muslim garb, his wife Michelle sporting an afro and holding a machine gun, giving Obama a fist bump with a picture of Osama Bin Laden hanging on a White House wall with an American flag burning in the fireplace. Wow! The magazine’s editor says it was satire. And no doubt it was, because the New Yorker is a liberal, pro-Obama review, and no one doubts where it stands on the presidency. Yet, it dominated the news because many people disapproved of the content. The Obama campaign described it as tasteless and John McCain also criticized it. Most pundits were not convinced by the satiric nature of the piece. In fact, when you have to explain it because most did not understand it, then you know you failed in your communication. The New Yorker, a renowned and respected magazine, just simply blew it.
Is this disastrous to the Obama campaign? Is it of the magnitude of Pastor Wright’s famous ‘God damn America’? Or, is it a one day wonder? This blog believes that how the Obama campaign reacts will determine the extent of the damage. Beyond criticizing the cover, the Obama campaign should move on. His opponent, McCain, showed stature in joining the criticism and today Barack Obama is delivering a major speech on Iraq.
This being said, it is important to look at the reasons behind this ‘satiric’ cartoon. The blogs have been spreading falsehoods regarding Obama’s religion, taking the oath in the Senate, his wife’s behavior, and his position on fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Latest polls show important percentages of people who believe Obama used the Koran instead of the bible when he was sworn in as Senator and 12% still believe he is Muslim. The fact that all serious observers, including opponents, dispute these lies has not dissipated the doubts. Fair or not, like it or not, if Obama’s elected president, he will probably be the least known occupant of the White House since World War II. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I & II, and Clinton were known commodities. Perhaps only Jimmy Carter had as little public notoriety as Obama. But he was white.
Testing Obama has been a recurrent theme in this blog. Unlike most serious candidates for the presidency, there is a knowledge deficit regarding Obama. Not everyone has read Dreams from My Father or The Audacity of Hope. In addition, he defeated a political icon in the presence of Hillary Clinton. It is to be expected that he be tested and how he passes the tests will gradually remove the doubts. The Pastor Wright issue is a case in point. Better to have made the speech on race and the decision to dissociate himself from his pastor in the spring of 2008 than in the fall of 2008. Better to have been contrasted with the old rhetoric of traditional civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson, than in the fall of 2008. And better now to deal with his religious association and matters of character than in the fall of 2008. Surely there will be more instances and more tests like the New Yorker cartoon in the weeks ahead. More tests mean more opportunities to remove doubts.
The issues and the appetite for change should make this election a slam dunk for the Democratic nominee. The Democrats will sweep Congress. Yet, on July 15, 2008, both Obama and McCain are in a statistical tie. This cannot be explained by differences on the issues or by wide discrepancy in the talent of the candidates. Obama is beyond a doubt one of the most exciting candidates to run for the presidency since Bobby Kennedy. The more the doubt is removed from his candidacy, the better his chances will be to win the White House come November.