I would be happier with the idea that the New Yorker’s cover was satirical, as editor David Remnick claimed, if it was funny. Isn’t satire supposed to be funny? (Jeffrey Goldberg alerts me to the fact that an editorial writer at the New York Sun chuckled over it for several minutes. I didn’t chuckle even for a moment. It wasn’t that I was offended. I was just puzzled. What am I supposed to make of this, I wondered?)
Imagine the cartoon were not on the cover of the New Yorker. Most people, I think, would then read it not as reducing a certain idiotic view of Barack Obama and his wife to a comical absurdity, but as expressing that idiotic view with caricatural emphasis. Would it have been satirical (in the sense David Remnick means) on the cover of National Review? At best, without a caption or headline to send the image up, its meaning is unclear: it is a joke without a punchline, and just doesn’t work (except, of course, as a way to get people talking about the magazine).
Obama rightly made light of it. He called it (I’m paraphrasing) an attempt at satire that failed. That is exactly what it was.