President Obama as a runaway slave?
By DENNIS KING and GERALDINE PAULING
OCTOBER 30, 2012—Fox News mogul Rupert Murdoch’s New York tabloid published a cartoon last Wednesday that more appropriately belongs in a Ku Klux Klan rag or as a poster for Lyndon LaRouche’s street-corner agitators. Sean Delonas, the longtime cartoonist for the Post, depicts an angry white man on horseback (Mitt Romney) chasing down a terrified skinny black man fleeing on foot (President Obama)—and the Romney figure is aiming an assault rifle and attached bayonet at the Obama figure’s backside.
From the New YorKKK Post’s “Page Six” column, Oct. 24, 2012.
Think for a second: the target of the Romney figure and his weapon is the President of the United States, our President, our Commander in Chief. The Post apparently sees nothing wrong with displaying racial contempt and fantasies of violence against President Obama, but we suspect that if a white President—even Jimmy Carter—had been depicted in a cartoon as the target of an assault rifle/bayonet attack by his election rival, the Post’s editors would have failed to see any humor in it and would have declined to publish it.
The Post will laugh this off by claiming it’s all just a metaphor for Romney surging (supposedly) in the polls, that the gun is shooting polling charts rather than bullets, and that the bayonet and horse are intended merely to satirize Obama’s comment about horses and bayonets in the final Presidential debate between Obama and Governor Romney on Oct. 22.
Don’t believe these excuses. The cartoon clearly evokes an image from the Old South of an overseer or slave catcher chasing down a runaway slave. (As in the image above, the overseer usually would have been on horseback and the slave almost certainly would have been on foot, but the overseer would have had a whip as well as a gun and would not have been trying to kill the slave—slaves were valuable property.)
A white man on horseback chasing a black man on foot also suggests the KKK night riders and their reign of terror against freed slaves shortly after the Civil War. The original Klan was headed by Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate cavalry general—and the image of a Champion of the White Race on horseback would become as central to Klan tradition as the burning of crosses.
This is the cover of a Klan pamphlet from the early 1930s. You can find many more examples via a Google Images search.
Painting of Nathan Bedford Forrest as posted on the far-right “American and Proud” website that links to Tea Party sites. A statement on the same page, apparently from the site’s owner, says: “I support ANYONE who makes it past the media gauntlet and opposes Barack Obama in 2012.”
The Klansman on horseback tradition continues today with the International Keystone Knights of the KKK. And please don’t say we’re trying to suggest that Romney has Klan sympathies. The cartoon of the Republican Presidential candidate on horseback hunting down Obama is Murdoch’s doing, not Romney’s.
In the Oct. 22 debate, Obama very definitely transgressed the taboo against uppity behavior that is part of the racist group fantasy. He did this by forcefully challenging—on TV before 59.2 million Americans—the foreign-policy notions of the Great White Republican Hope, forcing Romney to agree with him on many points, and landing a devastating blow with his quip about how the U.S. military has moved beyond the era of horses and bayonets.
The Post had been delighted by Obama’s non-aggressive performance in the first debate, but when he defended his record with wit and verve on Oct. 22, the paper’s number-one Obama hater, Michael Goodwin, complained that the President had “mocked, personally attacked and sneered at” Romney and had shown “utter contempt” for the Republican candidate. Goodwin seemed blissfully unaware that he was describing precisely what he himself and other Republican media hacks had been doing to Obama ever since the campaign season began.
In the group fantasies about race that are shared by millions of white racist Republicans, Obama—the Rebellious Slave/Uppity Negro—must be punished symbolically as well as politically for his many transgressions. And the perceived humiliation of Romney in the Oct. 22 interchange (on military preparedness, of all things) must be reversed—which the Delonas cartoon did by portraying the Republican candidate as a looming figure on horseback with fury in his eyes (and a giant phallus in the form of the assault rifle) charging down on a curiously diminished President who is depicted as an almost monkey-like figure.
In the twisted dream-logic of the racist group fantasy as manifested in this malignantly iconic cartoon, the verbal instruments of the white man’s humiliation (the horse and the bayonet) become the physical instruments of the black man’s punishment. Some individuals will also see in the image intimations of repressed homosexuality erupting into anal rape. Certainly the trajectory of the overly large rifle and the bayonet—and the sadistic leer on the horseman’s face—suggest this, but we will stick here to a politically-oriented analysis. For even without any sexual allusions, the hunting down of the Obama figure fits with the group fantasy’s punishment motif.
By supposedly humiliating Romney in the final debate, Obama symbolically humiliated those right-wing whites who are caught up in the group fantasy and for whom Romney is (in psychohistorical terms) the “delegate.” Obama has also humiliated these folks on a daily basis by the very fact that he is President. Thus, the group fantasy–which is an essentially timeless artifact in which the traditional racial hierarchy still exists–decrees that Obama the transgressor must be punished in a way that not only reverses the humiliation but also humiliates the transgressor himself a hundredfold in order to make the traditional racial order whole again.
Neither Obama nor Romney set out to play his assigned role in this group fantasy. The roles are being projected onto them by elements of the electorate who in turn are being driven by something that has deep historical roots: first in the centuries of slavery and second in the Jim Crow era, when thousands of black men were lynched not only because of accusations that they’d attacked a white woman but also for a variety of perceived slights against white people—talking back or otherwise behaving in an uppity way, showing a talent for business, or even just displaying independence of mind. And blacks were not just strung from a tree like some rustler in the Old West—they were subjected to beatings and torture first, sometimes including castration and dismemberment, or were burned alive. (Please note that we are not trying to say that cartoonist Delonas wants to bring back the era of lynchings; as a transmitter of the group fantasy in the 21st century he probably gave no thought to the deeper historical and psychological levels of what he was depicting. The power of group fantasy springs from the fact that it operates chiefly on an unconscious level.)
Today, violent racist retribution against a black person will gain a white bigot a long prison sentence if he’s caught. But those Americans who are caught up in the group fantasy and happen to view the Post cartoon can experience a certain retributory satisfaction by gloating over the cartoon’s payback motif before they go out to vote for their hero on horseback. And meanwhile the group fantasy continues to exercise both a symbolic and political influence via the dog-whistle comments about the President that are coming fast and furious from Republican circles as Election Day approaches.
The first impression of the Delonas cartoon for many supporters of Obama will be that it is profoundly disrespectful of the President and indeed of the Presidency itself. But this has been the case with the attacks on Obama from his first day in office. Respect is simply not part of the equation for individuals who refuse to acknowledge that Obama is legitimately our President even though he was duly elected and sworn in as such.
A huge percentage of Republicans say they don’t believe Obama was born in the U.S.A., and indeed if they were right he would be an illegal occupant of the White House. But the “Birther” theory is only code language. Most Republicans know perfectly well that Obama was born in the United States. What they are really saying is that they cannot—will not—accept a black man as their President unless he is willing to be a Clarence Thomas-type puppet for their own political agenda.
Apparently many of the Republican Birthers don’t believe that a black man can ever be their equal. The best known of the Birthers, Donald Trump, said on Fox News on Oct. 24 that Obama is the “least transparent” President we’ve ever had, and offered $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice if the President would release his college records and applications—the strong implication being that the President with untransparent skin couldn’t possibly have won acceptance to or performed successfully in top schools without special assistance.
When the Post endorsed Romney on Oct 25, it chose to adopt the not-a-real-President trope in a sly manner—with a front-page headline “THE ONLY CHOICE.” Consider: Romney is running against a President who has the support of approximately half the population of our country, and massively outpolls Romney in New York City, but the Post won’t acknowledge that he’s a choice—even a bad choice. This stance carries its own Planet Bizarro logic: if Obama’s not a legitimate President but only a “shuck and jive” President (Sarah Palin’s phrase), then voting for him is as meaningless as inserting on the ballot the name of one of those fictional black presidents who kept getting assassinated–right under Jack Bauer’s nose–on the Fox network’s 24.
The Post has become increasingly unhinged during the last days of the Presidential race. After Richard Mourdock, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Indiana, announced that conception of a child by way of rape is God’s will (thus greatly embarrassing Romney who nevertheless continued to support Mourdock), the Post’s Andrea Peyser declared that Romney is the true feminist candidate for President and that Obama is the world’s worst sexist because he calls his wife “Sweetie.” (Peyser said nothing about her own newspaper’s relentlessly demeaning descriptions of scantily clad women; see the picture of the new Daniel Craig co-star on p. 13 of the Oct. 28 issue with the text underneath: “Double-oh-wow! Meet the new Bond girl, French sexpot Bérénice Marlohe…”)
But don’t think for one moment that the Delonas cartoon is simply part of the electoral silly season. The Post has a long history of pushing the envelope of sports-bar bigotry—as in the notorious 2009 cartoon portraying a rabid chimpanzee bleeding to death with two cops standing over it, one with a smoking gun, and a caption that refers to Obama’s stimulus package.
From the New YorKKK Post’s “Page Six” column, Feb. 18, 2009.
Let’s draw a line against the racism of the New York Post and the Republican fever swamp by turning out in massive numbers for Obama. And then, remembering all those suggestions by the radical right that Obama be sent “back to Kenya,” New Yorkers should warmly and courteously invite Rupert Murdock to “self-deport” (or better yet, just teleport) back to Australia.
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Dennis King pioneered in the study of coded bigotry in his book Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. Geraldine Pauling is an independent scholar and longtime member of the International Psychohistorical Association, which is noted for its analyses of political cartoons.