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October 21, 2008

Newsweek — Swallowing GOP Attack — Positions Obama As Leftist


First of all, I take issue with the idea America is a center-right country when Bush initially sold himself as a centrist, failed to earn a clear mandate when he was re-elected (basically through the exploitation of fear), and then lost the last mid-term election to the Democrats.

More concerning the visual politics here, however….

I’m troubled by the way Newsweek places Obama between us and the flag, and how a national news mag has Obama’s back to us again (1 , 2) reinforcing the right-wing meme that we don’t and can’t really know him.

Most specifically, though, I take issue with the fact a politically centrist Obama is framed looking leftward — at the same time, in the closing days of the election, his inordinately rightward-looking competition is openly branding him a socialist.

  • KansasKowboy

    Well, NEWSWEEK is a propaganda magazine.

  • dr4lom

    I see what you’re saying and I agree. There’s really no reason any pundit should assume that America is right of center. But it goes alone with the ideal of claiming the U.S. as a “Christian Nation” when indeed, the opposite was the initial point. I find a lot of the criticism of Obama in the typical rhetoric today largely shallow and without merit. Just like in the last debate wherein the “attack argument” was posed on either side and McCain’s only examples of attacks from Obama were issue ads. They’re supposed to attack each other on issues, that’s the game. Where as attacks from the right still toe the line of being purely personal attacks. False association, mis-labling(as in the socialist meme), racial remarks, etc. These seem to be the strategies to counter Obama when I think if anything the average voter is tired of that.
    Concerning just the image, what strikes me is not so much Obama being between the viewer and the flag, but that the flag itself is blurry. As if, like Palin’s recent remarks about “real America”, that Obama’s patriotism is somehow fuzzy.

  • black dog barking

    …his inordinately rightward-looking competition who is funding his campaign with *public* financing is openly branding him as a socialist
    The Modern Republic Party has developed projection into an art form.
    Yet another picture of the back of Senator Obama’s head. There are positive connotations that accrue with “from behind” framing. 1) We empathize and identify with the Senator. We are looking at the same world he is. We’re on the same page.
    2) Back of the head is sometimes the only view one gets of an energetic leader. “Keep up” is the unspoken message. “Keep up or get left behind.”

  • MonsieurGonzo

    If we convert the image to raw B&W, then either the man is “behind bars”, or he is viewing ‘America’ through a polarizing filter. I agree: Very weird visual propaganda, BAGman; distinctly negative; i cannot recall ever seeing anything quite like it being used as an expression of character… perhaps its genesis is Op Art and Moiré patterns ?

  • SplendidMarbles

    I think the image shows a small man facing a huge task – maybe intended to reinforce the belief among conservatives that he’s not ready. It’s an odd picture, to say the least. Thanks for pointing it out. Did anyone see the YouTube clip of Jon Stewart’s Boston rant against Palin? I posted it on my site today – please check it out (

  • Wire

    As the mass media has learned to editorialize everything, they’ve become trapped in a paradox of their own creation: In order to appear to adhere to standards of impartiality–which I think are measured purely internally–they presume to cover only facts. Yet the most salable facts are others opinions, as these are the surest sort of entertainment and intrigue. On one foot they distance themselves from judgment to serve their objectivist ethos, while on the other they dash towards the most prurient and salacious of speculations, which of course they only report. As they can’t report everything, they resort to judgment, by which they would be foolish to consider anything more important than the needs of their markets. With only their paradigm of objectivity to guide them and no situational awareness beyond their markets (advertisers and owners) we should expect that their content is largely a shadow projection, more or less artfully controlled depending on the level of enlightenment of the institutional Self. In a nutshell, the mass media is a giant reaction formation of its producers and the nature of the formations is its most significant contents. What this means to the student of this media is that we should foremost be aware of out own tendencies in observation because the medium is not presenting anything much well organized.
    An obvious but overlooked interpretation of this image of the “back” of Barack, maybe a forgotten meme, is that the view of the lead dog.
    Everyone who thinks know that Barack Obama will be the next president if the electorate has anything to say about it. And the mass media knows this too.
    As is so often the case, leadership is found, not cultivated. And the narcissistic sector of society we now call the “press” is easily caught off gaurd, they are such a small group. And as individuals, the members of press corps are astoundingly cowed to the power of the machine they serve, so their senses are tuned to the alpha-male beyond ordinary rekoning.
    Of course the flag is a blur. There is no shared sense of patriotism in the body politic since W-and-the-neocons ‘as had its way with the country. This apprehension is available to everyone who looks, even if they don’t know what they’re seeing. But it must be keenly seen and felt within the ranks of the fourth estate, if only by their proprioceptions of our nation’s collective injury.
    I don’t interpret this image optimistically, but I think it’s a sign from those who get paid to look that if they can’t look ahead, they are about ready to follow someone who can.

  • Kris T

    As MonsieurGonzo suggested, the black man behind the red and white bars is oddly disturbing.
    In my opinion, I think the opposition/competition/those-on-the-other-side-of-the-coin (why they are there, I’m not certain that even they know) are digging deep here. As I mentioned in a previous Palin post–I’m curious about the continual media play on the blurred flag issue–frankly I find that odd. In this day and age of imagery and media and give-it-me-now moments, it just seems strange that the media would continue to perpetuate this blurred flag theme. To me it seems like we live in a pretty sharp, cut and dry era.
    Anyway, BAG, I love this site and thank you for all your hard work.

  • donna

    America is NOT center right. Any number of polls on issues shows that.
    The propaganda machines are suffering, losing business, and then they wonder why. The fools.

  • Stephen Rose

    I agree Barack is centrist in some respects but I also think he would do great things in terms of reprocessing what that means. For example it is centrist to want liberty justice and happiness for all. We can take heart that most of the current McCain flak seems to have no effect — another confirmation that we are not right tending nation. All this is a way of cutting Newsweek a bit of slack.

  • jean

    ‘Concerning just the image, what strikes me is not so much Obama being between the viewer and the flag, but that the flag itself is blurry. As if, like Palin’s recent remarks about “real America”, that Obama’s patriotism is somehow fuzzy.’ dr4lom
    I don’t think that Obama’s patriotism is fuzzy, I see it as the meaning of ‘patriotism’ in America is fuzzy, disjointed. Too much finger pointing between rival groups, too much fear, too much ‘I am more patriotic than thou’. What does it mean? Support the troops, the war? Nationalism, populism? Elitism? What do those words even mean today? It IS a bit fuzzy, isn’t it? Obama, on the other hand, has been spectacularly grounded, while we flailed around out here on the periphery. He is pretty clear cut.
    Maybe Obama is looking at it and thinking “What in the hell have I got myself into?” I would.

  • d

    I take an even more pessimistic reading than all of those above.
    The stark text at the center of the focal point is really important. It psychologically preps us for a binary:
    America= Conservative, while Obama = President.
    By implication, then: Conservatives≠President, and Obama≠American. (!!)
    And then the photo visually elaborates on that bifurcation in troubling ways.
    1. Obama is facing the flag–i.e., facing “America”–from a position that is separate from America–i.e. as an outsider looking in. The from-behind shot (coupled with the text) strongly reinforces the Obama-as-Alien/Outsider theme–Obama as somehow separate from America.
    2. We are seeing how Obama “really sees” America…i.e. we are looking through his eyes to see America as a separate entity. This above/behind view gives us the illusion of omniscience–thus, we the viewers are REALLY seeing how Obama ACTUALLY “sees”… i.e. this is not Newsweek’s opinion, but Truth.
    3. The flag is blurry… but as “we” see it through Obama’s eyes, it is out of focus.
    Why can Obama not focus on the flag?
    Is his vision poor? (with all of the metaphorical/symbolic implications of poor vision.)
    Does Obama just not “get” it?
    4. I agree that the white stripes are almost like bars. Obama is forever separate from America, because he’s imprisoned… by his liberalism? By his race? unclear. (“Everyone knows” that all black men are in prison…)
    I think that the starkness of the text–AMERICA THE CONSERVATIVE–is not only political propaganda in its own right, but predisposes the viewer towards a more sinister reading of the image. The text completely shuts down certain readings (i.e. that Obama might be emotionally moved to see the flag, so patriotic that his eyes are filled with tears at its image), and leaves us with yet another implication that Obama is somehow different” from America.
    Count me with Jon Stewart. I’m fucking tired of this bullshit.

  • Books Alive

    Now that I can see the names of the writers whose work is in this issue, I’ll read their contributions. Jon Meacham and Sean Wilentz are historians whose major works I’ve read and admire. Now to see how the stories fit with the cover. I do feel that an Obama presidency will give them uplifting and exciting avenues to follow in the stories and histories they are yet to author.
    How many voters see these covers and are influenced by them? Cable viewers are given weekly previews by the editors who are on the programs as political contributors. I see that as doing the bidding of the corporate powers behind the cable stations. And that they don’t necessarily increase sales with this effort.

  • Victoria

    Flag = Center-Right Nation actually brings a rise of anger in me. Oh, the presumption of Jon Meacham. Such seeming wisdom, so Charlie Rose…
    In fact, I would suggest America doesn’t know what it is – and that’s a much bigger, more interesting story. But Meacham is too far behind the curve to know it.
    Look at the McCain campaign: their polling must tell them – as it has so many Republicans for the last decade or more – that they can’t win by arguing for the actual center-right things they want to do, so they have to lean on cheap but rousing manipulative junk – about the Others – instead. Code-word triggers versus frank clarity. Small wonder that enormous Pew study in 04 showed that Republican voters did not know what they were voting for in percentages as high as 70-80%. The American conversation has more noise and less meaning each year. No wonder so many Americans want Medicare and Social Security but then jump around as if income tax = booga-booga socialism.
    Can Obama’s gift for calm communication help America to get to know itself again? That’s a cover story. What would be the appropriate image for that?

  • Luther Brixton

    The desperate attempt of the estabishment media to cling to their inpenetrable conservative minority point of view will not be undone by such annoying things as “facts” and “reality”.
    The fact that the polling of Americans (the species that people like Meacham and David Brooks like to study without ever getting too close) consistently finds the American people in strong, undeniable opposition to the failed conservative ideology of every-man-for-himself, government-must-not-work, tax-breaks-for-super-rich, and endless-wars-of-conquest-for-big-busines. Since everyone Meacham (and by extension the entire liberal media) associates with is far-far-right and out of touch with American people, is just an inconvenient truth that must be ignored. As Karl Rove said, conservatives like Meacham “make our own reality” and mock the “reality based community!” Thankfully, with the death knell of the failed conservative ideology being rung loudly across the land, all the pundit class can do now is try — in a Wizard of Oz fashion — to tell Americans to “pay no mind” to the failure of Conservatism brought to it’s logical conclusion under George W Bush. “Americans are conservative and always will be” goes the beltway mantra, regardless of how progressive the overwhleming majority of REAL America people are.

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