Thursday, November 13, 2008

Political Cartoons and Presidential Races

This US News and World Report article looks at the impact of political cartoons on presidential races, “For much of the 19th century, political cartoons wielded tremendous influence in presidential races because they, along with more-respectful hand-drawn portraits, were the only candidate pictures voters had.”

Political cartons were very powerful in 19th century elections:
In the last decades of the 19th century, the birth of daily newspapers and cartoonists' mounting disgust for Gilded Age greed gave rise to populist-themed comics. Days before the 1884 presidential election, Joseph Pulitzer's New York World ran a front-page cartoon mocking a lavish dinner held by wealthy donors for Republican nominee James G. Blaine. "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings" pictured a ragged family begging for a morsel from Blaine's spread of "lobby pudding" and "monopoly soup." Borrowing Lincoln's tactic from 1864, the Democrats distributed thousands of copies of the cartoon throughout New York State. The Republicans had already been circulating cartoons lampooning Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland for fathering an illegitimate child. But when Cleveland's narrow victory in New York gave him the electoral votes to win the White House, "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar" was widely seen as a major help.

Photography and then television took away the importance of political cartoons, but they still had their place:
The brash new cartoonists questioned Richard Nixon's ethics and John F. Kennedy's youth in the 1960 election. Even with Kennedy's assassination still fresh during the 1964 race, they refused to hold back on Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. "I wanted to be humorous without being lightweight," says Pat Oliphant, who arrived in the United States from Australia during the Johnson-Goldwater race and joined the new breed of hard-edged cartoonists. "A legitimate political cartoon has to draw blood."

During Nixon's 1968 and 1972 races, cartoonists drew plenty of his blood. "He was an absolute gift," says cartoonist Draper Hill. "He was stylized in a way that epitomized evil." Long before Nixon became president, Herblock began drawing him with a house burglar's five o'clock shadow. "It's more enjoyable to deal with people you don't like, because it's a critical medium," says Tony Auth, a Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist who joined the paper during the Nixon administration. "Nice cartoons aren't very good."

Political cartoonists are still out there, but the numbers are waning:
Currently, there are fewer than 100 full-time political cartoonists, down from 2,000 at the turn of the last century. But just like nearly all his predecessors, Kallaugher considers election season his favorite time to draw. "The cartoon-consuming public is paying attention to the news, so you can assume much more knowledge from the audience and do more-sophisticated work," he says. Kallaugher has yet to identify his least favorite candidate this year. In other words, the one he wants to win the White House to ensure four years of pitiless cartoons.

So go enjoy some political cartoons!

1 comment:

Francisco Solares-Larrave said...

Tony Auth is one of my favorite political cartoonists... because of his weird drawing style. He's very far from Oliphant and Lukovich (whom I also like). Nice to see him mentioned here. Thanks for keeping this absolutely great job of blogging about American Presidents!