I came across this picture in the December 27 Sunday Times and, though I've seen variations of it before, it gave me pause over my coffee.
Has any other sitting president ever been subjected to so many intensely personal attacks? I won't address here, the resonance between the image of our black president with white makeup superimposed on his face and minstrel shows where white men "blacked up." I'll save that for another blog, another day. For now I'll stick to the general unpleasantness of the image and how it exemplifies the most basic lack of respect.
There is a film villain for everyone if this is the path we want to follow. I can imagine Sarah Palin in a mock-up as Freddie Kruger in her own version of "Nightmare on Main Street." Perhaps Joe Lieberman could be photo-shopped seamlessly into an "independent" Godzilla spreading terror through the streets or how about Dick Cheney as the terminator? The thought that he might be back...I just scared myself.
Good for a chuckle maybe, but like the "Joker" image, my suggestions are puerile and serve a dubious purpose. The problem with what passes for politics at the moment is that the mischief of the playground rules, rather than the legitimate provocation of debate.
I object to the defamatory scare campaigns favored by the far right and to their use of visceral messages which are ugly and manipulative. They seek not to inform but to influence by provoking an emotional response, where emotion overrides logic. Often, as in this poster, the desired response is fear. When people are afraid, they don't always think.
I'm not protesting about caricatures or political cartoons, the best of which use satire, even cruel satire, to make valid political points. Genuine political satire should be thought provoking. What I'm addressing here is a simple lack of respect and how it is polarizing our nation.
Party politics has become extreme, sometimes extending down to a personal level. Friends fall out where previously there was understanding not to "talk politics" to the point of conflict. The stakes have become too high.
Everyone I speak to seems to be in agreement about one thing, that politicians are primarily interested in feathering their own nests and lining their own pockets. Respect has to be earned. Have these people earned our respect? If not, we have a vote and we should use it against them.
We can build respect by being informed about the issues of the day rather than indulging in the mud-slinging that inhabits the internet. In spite of the surplus of forwarded internet "jokes," politics is no longer funny.
In such difficult times, individual views are heartfelt, with good reason. Smear campaigns like the above example only muddy the waters and fail to serve the very people they address. The authors of such campaigns are counting on nobody noticing that.
We need to debate and discuss and we should hold our political leaders and our media responsible for contributing to that debate by sticking to the issues instead of trading in playground taunts. The American people deserve better.