Barack Obama launched a Web site that fact-checks “smears” about him, his wife and his career. It remains to be seen whether this is an effective tactic against negative campaigning, but it certainly isn’t very funny.  

The New Yorker did much the same thing with its cover depicting President Obama – in full Muslim regalia – doing the “fist bump” with First Lady Michelle – sporting a ‘70s-style Afro and with an assault rifle slung over her shoulder – as the American flag burns in an Oval Office fireplace, above which hangs a portrait of Usama bin Laden. It is very funny and would have been effective if the Obamas, political pundits and the chattering classes had more of a sense of humor and less of a sense of superiority.  

Slate’s media critic Jack Shafer was spot-on in his analysis: 

Although every critic of the New Yorker understood the simple satire of the cover, the most fretful of them worried that the illustration would be misread by the ignorant masses who don’t subscribe to the magazine. Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm wrote, “That’s the problem with satire. A lot of people won’t get the joke. Or won’t want to. … 

Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker‘s detractors desire. I don’t know whether to be crushed by that realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture for himself. 

Obama himself is setting the tone for his supporters, who reflexively look down their noses at proletariats and petite bourgeoisie. As Maureen Dowd notes: “Barack Obama may make it to the Rose Garden, but he’ll still be an orchid. For all his attempts to act like a sturdy American perennial, he’s a genuine hothouse flower, and everything he is and does is cultivated.”  

Obama and his supporters are cultivated, cultured, sophisticated and nuanced. The rest of us are “people who think George W. Bush’s C-average is a good thing,” as law professor Kyron Huigens at NY’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law put it in this article that attempts to explain Obama’s flip-flopping using the flawed Supreme Court ruling on subjecting child rapists to the death penalty as an example: 

Obama’s position has been described as a move from the left to the center of the political spectrum, or to the right of liberal opinion. From a legal point of view, however, Obama’s position is unremarkable. Given this, it is likely that his reaction to the decision does not reflect a shift in his beliefs at all. 

The law of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment presents the Court with two options in dealing with the death penalty. It can ban the penalty for certain offenses or offenders, or it can regulate death sentencing. … 

To a legal scholar, a ban for a particular offense can seem too much a matter of one-size-fits-all – and regulated death sentencing ensures, if not an error-free process, at least an unusually careful and deliberate one. The Court’s most recent opinion took the first approach to cases of child rape. Obama said that he would have taken the second route. The advantage of this, as he explained, is that it allows capital punishment to be imposed, or not, on the merits of each individual case. … 

Not only are these choices impossible to fix on the left-right spectrum, they also are the kind of fundamental choices about the rule and role of law that legal scholars tend to make and then stick with until an especially strong argument persuades them otherwise. 

Here’s the kicker: Huigens admits he is speculating on Obama’s thought processes – meaning he has no idea whether Obama’s opposition to the high court’s ruling was based on legal analysis or political expediency. Then he adds: “the anti-intellectualism of his opponents … makes it politically dangerous to explain complex issues in complex ways.”  

Perhaps. But it is also possible to think George W. Bush’s C-average is not “a good thing” while thinking that affirmative action is not a good thing, either. Which brings to mind this recent Dinesh D’Souza column about the quality of Michelle Obama’s undergraduate thesis: 

Michelle Obama is part of the affirmative action generation of above-average but far-from-stellar performers who were granted preferential admission to America’s most elite institutions.   Michelle notes that she graduated with honors in her major. …

You might expect that she wrote about Shakespeare’s sonnets or the political evolution of W.E.B. Du Bois. Well, no. Essentially Michelle Obama wrote about the problems of being a black woman at an Ivy League university.  

Here is a typical passage: “By actually working with the Black lower class or within their communities as a result of their ideologies, a separationist may better understand the desparation of their situation and feel more hopeless about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is ignorant to their plight.” 

Alas, the grammar is all wrong here. More than once, the tenses are garbled. People are ignorant “of” the plight of the lower class, not ignorant “to” their plight.  And “desperation” should be spelled “desperation.” To wreak so much havoc on the English language in one sentence, without conveying anything of substance, is perhaps deserving of a prize. Is this what her professors were thinking when they granted her honors?  

“[T]hese are not mere typos,” D’Souza writes, “they reflect an estranged relationship to the English language.”  

The Obamas also have an estranged relationship with humor and satire – and their supporters (or “Obamorons,” as D’Souza has dubbed them) appear to have an estranged relationship with reality.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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