We received much mail from readers offended by Robert Grossman's "Babe Lincoln" (Jan. 24). His cartoon was intended as a comment on the controversy stirred by C.A. Tripp's new book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, in which Tripp argues that Lincoln was homosexual. We leave historians to debate Tripp's thesis, as we leave readers and Grossman to discuss the cartoon below. We deeply regret having offended anyone.
STEREOTYPE BY DAGUERREOTYPE
Karl Rove himself couldn't have done a better job of conflating liberalism and adolescent vulgarity. Anyone trying The Nation as a result of having seen Katrina vanden Heuvel on mainstream TV might regret having done so when they see Robert Grossman's cartoon "Babe Lincoln."
THEODORE G. GOETZ
New York City
I was surprised to discover that the Nation editors don't seem to understand the difference between gender and sexuality. Robert Grossman's "Babe Lincoln" depicts the President decked out in nineteenth-century women's lingerie. The caption jokes that a "newly discovered daguerreotype lends support to theory in a recent book that the sixteenth president was gay." Kind of funny, maybe, but such a daguerreotype would in fact suggest that "Babe Lincoln" (pretty old hat, that) was a cross-dresser rather than a gay man.
I'm having a problem understanding the "Babe Lincoln" cartoon. The drawing shows a recognizable Lincoln head atop a voluptuous Victorian postcard-porn female body. The text states that the "newly discovered" image lends credence to the suggestion that Lincoln was gay.
Was Lincoln transgendered--a male "trapped" in a female body? Or was he a transvestite, a man who likes to dress up in female clothing (but those cartoon breasts look pretty real, no padding there)? Could he actually have been a hermaphrodite with characteristics of both sexes (although I can't be sure what those pantaloons are really hiding)? Of course, none of these things necessarily equates with homosexuality.
I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how the cartoonist could have visually indicated "gayness" in some other less confusing way. Undoubtedly, however, it too would have been inaccurate and stereotypical. So, can you help me figure this out? Who's confused here--me, Lincoln or the cartoonist?
There may be risible aspects to the recent theory that Abe Lincoln had a homosexual past, but your cartoon is not funny. It's disturbing to find The Nation happily perpetuating the old stereotype of male homosexuality as being all about drag. None of that was in C.A. Tripp's book, so far as I know.
What exactly is your point? Do cigar-chomping Nation editors really get a kick out of jokes about faggots who act like women? The cartoon isn't just stupid, it's insulting.
STEPHEN C. BANDY
New York City
As someone who's written dozens of articles for The Nation, including a number on gay issues, I must ask: Didn't you consider that running Robert Grossman's offensive cartoon--bad enough in itself--was made worse by the political context in which we live? We've just come through an election the Republicans won, in part, by bashing gay people over the head with odious stereotypes and discriminatory referendums. That makes running this cartoon, which pretends that a man who loves a man really wants to be a woman--the oldest canard in the world--even more insulting.
New York City
I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds your Abe Lincoln cartoon deeply and painfully insulting. What you mistake for humor is nothing more than virulent and blatant homophobic garbage, utterly unworthy of the 140-year-old magazine entrusted to your care. It's this kind of ignorant stereotyping that fuels and perpetuates hatred, disgust and violence against homosexuals. I'm embarrassed for you.
Besides not being funny--a serious sin, as Oscar Wilde might have pointed out--the "Babe Lincoln" cartoon is fairly offensive in its knee-jerk association between "gay" and "woman in man's body" or whatever yuck-yuck image Robert Grossman intends. While I have no desire to defend Tripp's apparently fairly careless and tendentious "historical" argument, this sort of joke adds nothing of import to the issue raised by those claims. And the "Log Cabin Republicans take note" makes no sense at all, beyond the obvious fact that they (poor deluded souls) are gay Republicans.
This is, unfortunately, not an atypical lapse in taste.
LARRY GROSS, director
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Southern California
New York City
As a friend and admirer of Bob Grossman and a collector of his work, I felt deeply offended by the the letters on your website from some of your readers about Bob's "Babe Lincoln" cartoon. Their implication that an artist--especially in his case a political, social and cultural critic--should be constrained by rules of taste, political correctness and propriety is offensive to common sense and damaging to freedom.
And what's even worse, it seems that those advocates of censorship see themselves as "liberals." It's worrisome that a mild, sweetly funny and even affectionate take on Lincoln's alleged gayness should cause such a rabid response.
New York City
When I read a review in the New York Times of C.A. Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, the words "Babe Lincoln" suddenly ran through my mind, rendering me helpless. In the impoverished mental landscape of a cartoonist this is what passes for true inspiration. I knew that gay men were not necessarily effeminate, cross-dressers or bearded ladies but I couldn't let that prevent me from having my laugh. Better a cheap and infantile joke than no joke at all, or so I thought. Now I hereby apologize to anyone I have offended. I also want to thank the editors of The Nation for their playfulness and/or insensitivity in allowing my perky pin-up to get into print.
Somebody asked me about the ax in the picture. It was a contemporary symbol of Lincoln. Although now I've read that he may not ever have split any rails. Somehow I thought it would make my picture a little more edgy.
A DIFFERENT IRAQ PERSPECTIVE
Naomi Klein wrote in her "Lookout" column "You Break It, You Pay for It" [Jan. 10/17]: "As for preventing 'anarchy,' the US plan to bring elections to Iraq seems designed to spark a civil war--the civil war needed to justify an ongoing presence for US troops no matter who wins the elections."
I am an American, recently returned from the Middle East, where I met several of my Egyptian physician friends who have been working in Baghdad for a year and a half. There is a feeling and a belief in Iraq and the Middle East in general--which Klein and others are missing--that, yes indeed, the entire debacle in Iraq is designed to lead to a breakdown of the country and its eventual division into three separate countries, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish. The purpose is to enable the United States to more easily control the resources (water, oil and land) by pitting one faction against another (divide and conquer, yet again) thereby insuring that Iraq will never regain the power it had under Saddam Hussein (when despite his despotism Iraq was highly industrialized, had the highest literacy rates and the most emancipated women in the region and was a secular state) or the power it had as the only member of OPEC that sold its petrol not in dollars but in euros.
More important, this is the belief of many Iraqis and others (Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, etc.) now living and working in Iraq. Whether this is truly the US "plan" or not, many in Iraq believe it to be true. Some say this division of the country will occur quite quickly, within two years, and they have little power to stop it from happening. They are sure of it. This is an Arab perspective that has not been brought forward in the Western press.
NILE EL WARDANI
MORE MEMORIES OF JACK
Re "Jack Newfield" [Jan. 10/17]: One of Jack's great contributions is the groundbreaking work he did to tell the real story about George Bush's judicial nominees. His stories broke the mold, combining his extensive experience and knowledge of politics and history with his passion for justice. Miss Manners would have been appalled at his style. Junior staff at Alliance for Justice answered his phone calls with fear and trepidation. He was crotchety, impatient and demanding. They learned, however, that over time it was every bit worth the sweat and tears. Jack defied conventional standards of reporting. By writing what others would never say, going the extra mile to interview critical sources, reading lengthy hearing transcripts, confronting combative senators, he compiled the facts. Some senators even took to quoting verbatim from his stories during Judiciary Committee hearings.
I ran into Jack on the street in New York City a week before the election. I thanked him for his wonderful work, and he promised to keep writing, to keep fighting the good fight, particularly if Bush won. Jack's passing is a huge loss for our community and for investigative journalism at large.
NAN ARON, president
Alliance for Justice
ACTIVE, NOT ACTIVISTS
New York Cdity
In "Rapping on Empty" [Jan. 10/17], Jody Rosen calls the Guerrilla News Network an "activist group." We are not an activist group. We are an independent news website and a TV production company (www.guerrillanews.com).