February 17 2011
There's a cartoon out there that's making a lot of people mad: It depicts Michelle Obama as a hypocrite, working through a platter of bacon cheeseburgers while bragging to her husband about her efforts to get restaurants to cut portion sizes and fat content.
The cartoon isn't particularly funny, nor is it especially persuasive. But it makes the fairly obvious point that while the first couple sees Americans as being in desperate need of behavior modification, they themselves are free to eat whatever they choose (did you see that Super Bowl menu?). This is a point I've made numerous times (see here and here), and so have other commentators. The critique is about policy, not skin color.
The cartoon might make people mad for having the audacity to criticize the first lady - some might call it childish, obvious, and badly drawn to boot - but the cartoon simply doesn't deserve to be called racist.
MSNBC entertainer Lawrence O'Donnell last night strained his neck veins making claims of racism. But when you put aside O'Donnell's hysterics and look at the cartoon, it's obvious that the charge of racism just doesn't pan out.In no way did the cartoon suggest inferiority of the first family. It does not mention race; nor does it in any way suggest the first lady's behavior is related to her race. It simply, if rather clumsily, makes fun of the first lady's anti-fat campaign and her husband's concern for his reelection chances. Yes, it was juvenile to suggest that the first lady is fat (she's lovely and extremely fit) and it is mean-spirited to draw the president's ears so big, but he does have rather large ears (something I can't help but find endearing).
I'm sure Lawrence O'Donnell has seen unflattering cartoon depictions of past presidents. Bush was the subject of all sorts of insults and unflattering illustrations, and he could hardly count on O'Donnell's sensitive heart to defend him.
Lawrence O'Donnell can criticize the cartoon on its merits. He can criticize the cartoon's message and the talent of the sketch artist; he can go to town panning its comedic effect. But to suggest the cartoon is racist is just turning to one of liberals' favorite debate tricks - that any criticism of the White House is racist.