Huffpost Media

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Irshad Manji Headshot

Why Obama Should Thank The New Yorker

Posted: Updated:

I realize that a lot of you will deem me a pinhead (to use Bill O'Reilly's favorite word), but here goes:

The magazine cover from hell should be treated as manna from heaven. In shocking people with so many fierce images at once, the New Yorker has handed Barack Obama an opportunity to score three timely victories.

First, progressives who feel betrayed by his increasingly centrist positions have been yanked back to his side. No matter how passionately Obama explains his stances on wire-tapping or withdrawing from Iraq, his words won't be the red meat that inflammatory visuals are.

Of late, activists have needed their hearts stirred by hardened more combat. The New Yorker is helping Obama consolidate his base at exactly the right moment.

Second, his campaign can now insist that the media, including liberal organs, aren't uniformly treating their candidate with kid gloves. That claim will be valuable when trying to win sympathy from journalists in future negotiations.

This unexpected deposit in the Democratic pity bank arrives not a minute too soon: Rolling Stone and Newsweek, major publications catering to key constituencies of Obama, have just released issues with him gracing their covers in glowing light.

Finally, the New Yorker debacle could make Obama a stronger candidate by forcing him to deal more intelligently with the rumor that he's a covert Muslim -- and deal with it while he still has time. Yes, yes, I know that even if he was Muslim, the proper response ought to be a big, booming "So what?"

But that doesn't mean Obama can settle for audaciously hoping that the truth will prevail. Truth is, the Muslim rumor ain't going away. Republicans will make hay of it in the coming months and Obama had best be prepared.

A controversial magazine cover gives him the chance to affirm his patriotism. He doesn't have to continue denying a rumor, only to keep it alive. Rather, Obama can develop armor by emphasizing his love of the most authentic American value there is: free expression.

On Tuesday night, he began down this road by telling CNN's Larry King that a cartoon like is "why we have the First Amendment." I wish Professor Obama would have personalized the message. Here's what I can imagine:

"However hurt Michelle and I feel, we embrace American ideals and would never stand in the way of free speech. We ask only for responsible expression. As the entire nation knows, I'm a champion of responsibility, whether in the African-American community or in the journalistic community."

Judging from public comments about the cartoon on the HuffPost, many of Obama's supporters would think this statement too subtle for average Americans. Notice that I said "many," not "all" or even "most." Some of you will agree that we can afford to show more faith in Americans, which requires getting aggressively intelligent with them.

After all, it's because America has brains that Obama could deliver a nuanced address about race relations and receive wide public acclaim for doing so. Far from talking down to folks, he proved that the country can handle complexity.

And remember: Obama made that elegant speech amid another media swirl -- sparked by his then-pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In responding, he aimed to transcend the vulgar polarities of Black versus White, Left versus Right.

He hit the mark, managing to contrast himself not only with the partisans who screamed that the sky was falling, but also with the caricature of their candidate that they dreaded would be spun by Republicans.

Barack Obama can confound the spinners and screamers again. That means viewing the New Yorker cartoon as a gift. Otherwise his own campaign will be succumbing to the very title of said cartoon: "The Politics of Fear."