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Felix the Cat

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Well, thank goodness Niall Ferguson straightened us all out on what had to be a grievous smear on his reputation -- the theory that his comparison of the President of the United States to a heavily-inked cat from a post-World War I-era cartoon was racist.

Damn you and your "politically-correct claptrap!'' Ferguson, the columnist for the Financial Times of London, laid it out in his response on this site, so simply that even a cartoon-loving, website-trolling, race-card-playing dope like me could understand.

OK, not all that simply. "Black cats are proverbially lucky,'' he begins. Well, he likely didn't think he needed, even in the Internet age, to point out that they're lucky in British legend -- and that they're the exact opposite in American lore. He apparently was slightly unaware of the centuries-old connotations of comparing black cats to black people in this culture. Not that he was required to know any of this, unless he didn't think a piece about the U.S. president in a prestigious international journal would get any play here in the colonies. But what do I know? I'm just a twitching dead body of political correctness.

"Felix the cartoon character was a black cat,'' Ferguson pointed out as an example, "not an African-American cat.'' Oh. There's a big difference, he continued - a lot of characters from back then were created to mock black people. But not Felix -- his character was not used to mock a black person until almost 90 years later.

Just so we're clear, here is exactly how Ferguson began his analysis of the current state of the Obama presidency:

"President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. One of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 1920s, Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky. And that pretty much sums up the 44th president of the US as he takes a well-earned summer break after just over six months in the world's biggest and toughest job.''

Now, let's give Ferguson the benefit of the doubt. Just because the very first similarity he found between the two was blackness, and he used it as his hook for his column, that doesn't make him racist.

Stupid, yes. Juvenile, sure. Journalistically and aesthetically unsound, definitely. A sorry excuse for a writer, absolutely. But not racist.

I'm not sure, actually, that this story isn't borrowed from an old freshman journalism textbook describing how not to write a lead. Or from one of those features in the journalism industry magazines poking fun at the biggest blunders in the papers each month. Or from a Jay Leno "Headlines'' skit.

I'm not prepared to believe that when Ferguson sat down at his keyboard and pondered the best metaphor for Obama in the first six months of his ground-breaking presidency, either the first or the best one that came to mind was Felix the Cat. And that when his editor saw it, he or she nodded and said, "Niall, ol' chap, you really nailed it. Felix. Perfect! Especially the blackness part.''

My biggest problem? If he had to go there -- if he was that committed to digging deep and pulling up the perfect character to illustrate the blend of inkiness/luckiness that is Obama -- what made Felix so special?

As opposed to, say, Mickey Mouse? "President Barack Obama reminds me of Mickey Mouse ... Mickey was not only black. He also had very, very big ears.''

Or Daffy Duck? "Daffy was not only black. He also thought the American health-care system was very, very deth-picable.''

Finally, there is this tiny flaw in his premise, besides the part about Obama being "lucky,'' which should have sent readers clicking elsewhere immediately. The part about Felix the Cat being lucky.

If I remember my TV cartoon theme songs correctly, Felix is "... the wonderful, wonderful cat. Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks.''

Granted, we're talking about the American cartoon version, and again we may just have a failure to communicate. But the Felix I grew up knowing wasn't getting by on luck. More like intelligence, resourcefulness and creativity.

Then again, who in his right mind would ever associate any of that with being black?

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