The Lunatic Establishment?

Lee Siegel doesn’t think the Obama-as-terrorist New Yorker cover counts as satire:

If you accept this definition of satire, then the reason The New Yorker’s cover seems to have fallen short is precisely that it brought out into open, respectable space an idea of the Obamas that is still, happily, considered contemptible. The portrait of them as secret Muslims, in cahoots with terrorists and harboring virulent anti-American sentiments, exists for the most part either on the lunatic fringe or in what some might call the lunatic establishment: radically partisan entities like Fox News.

Sorry, Lee, your history lesson on the origins and background of modern satire was fun — how often do you see George Grosz namechecked in the NYT Week in Review? — but I just don’t think this cuts it. While polls indicate that a reasonable percentage of Americans still identify Obama as a Muslim, there’s no serious, mainstream belief that he and his wife are terrorist collaborators, gun-slinging militants who pal around with mass murderers and villains. And to suggest that Fox News, for all its sensationalism and inaccuracy, pushes or harbors the view that the Obamas are literally Islamic terrorists, is pretty laughable, and shows a fairly major lack of knowledge about a substantial portion of the American electorate. (Even the notorious fist-bump incident wasn’t quite as lame-brained as it first appeared.)

Instead, it seems to me that the cover counts perfectly under Siegel’s definition: it collected, amplified, and exaggerated all the most absurd rumors about the Obamas into something so obviously ridiculous no one could mistake it for anything else. I can’t say I found the cover all that amusing, personally, and given the opportunity, I doubt I’d have made the editorial decision to publish it. But if the main cause of concern over the cover is the belief that some significant part of mainstream conservativism thinks the Obamas are AK-packing terrorists who party with 9/11 masterminds, well, I suspect there’s a lot more to worry about than whether or not David Remnick knows his art history.