In the political arena, words and images are powerful. They can make or break campaigns and administrations. Media outlets leverage these words and images which inject them into a national conversation and historic chapter. But words and images that sell magazines are often exaggerated and should be viewed through a critical lens.
SEATTLE — By now, many Americans have seen the Newsweek cover touting that Barack Obama is the “First Gay President.” Author Andrew Sullivan has publicly stated that the title was not meant to be taken literally. But the title, and the accompanying photo, have nonetheless been much fodder for public discussion.
In case you missed the discussion, The Daily Beast has conveniently rounded it up. They noted how Obama has been called the “First Female President” because of his compassionate ways, and how this relates to Bill Clinton being called the “First Black President.”
This is not the first time Newsweek has made waves with covers of politicians. In June of 2008, Newsweek released a cover of Obama with what appeared to be a shining beacon of light descending upon the newly minted “Chosen One” of the Democratic presidential primary.
On its own, Obama’s angelic halo didn’t seem so bad. But when Newsweek ran a cover of Sarah Palin in October of 2008, just a few months later, there was strong backlash from conservatives because her photo showed every wrinkle and crease on the former beauty queen. Where is her airbrushing?, they hollered. Where is her shining beacon of light and hope?
It doesn’t take a political communication scholar to tell you that words, titles, and images have power. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be so up in arms over the latest Newsweek cover, or this Time cover for that matter.
What does bear repeating, though, is let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched. Obama is not the First Gay or Female President. Clinton was not the First Black President.
It took our nation 44 tries to get to the First Black President, and whether you liked or voted for him, it meant something — something significant — that we as a nation elected Obama.
I don’t know how many tries it will take till we legitimately get our first female president or first gay president. What I do know is that when that day comes, those candidates will have worked long and hard to get there, and it will once again mean something significant that we elected them. So for now, let’s just be content with Obama being the first black president, and save the other titles for the women and men who actually embody them.