For 8 years, life was good and easy for the liberal political cartoon community--they had George W. Bush & Dick Cheney to kick around. With hardly a care in the world, they boldly spoke truth to power, at immense personal risk to themselves, and quietly stacked their Pulitzers for being so bold and courageous and funny.
Then along came Barack Obama--the cool, handsome, African-American incarnation of JFK & Abraham Lincoln (no less). What were the professional sketch satirists to do?
"I had all my villains in place for eight years and they've been taken away," lamented Pulitzer Prize winner Pat Oliphant, one of the most widely syndicated cartoonists. "I don't know that I've ever had this experience before, of a president I maybe like. This is an antagonistic art. We're supposed to concentrate on finding things wrong. There's no point in drawing a cartoon that's favorable."
Given the positive dearth of lampoon-able material from their most favorite President ever, the only thing left to do is perfect the rare art of the laudatory political cartoon--the one that celebrates the subject.
During the presidential campaign, cartoonists frequently homed in on Obama's measured temperament, with more critical strips caricaturing him as cold and aloof. More often than not, though, drawings were complimentary. One showed him mending a Constitution shredded by Bush, and another depicted him as a symbol of 1960s civil rights struggles. Cartoons regularly portrayed Obama as rail-thin with big ears or playing basketball (one of his passions) or placed him in a pantheon with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.
Even during the election, with material presenting itself daily, liberal cartoonists still found themselves unable to caricature their hero-candidate. Sending him up as "cold & aloof" supposedly counted as negative in Politico.com reporter, David Mark's opinion. But we all know that "cold & aloof" just means "cool" to liberals.
None of this is news. Matthew Sheffield, NewsBusters founder & Executive Editor, documented more of the same last September when the Washington Post Ombudsman openly admitted the liberal bias of industry political cartoonists. His write-up on the awarding of Pulitzer prizes to political cartoonists showed a similar liberal bias.
Adding even more weight to the liberal bias charge was Mark Finkelstein's post on what Time magazine thought constituted the most humorous cartoons from 2007. As you probably guessed, they all lampoon conservatives.
(Regrettably, I've been unable to locate the 2008 edition, but it would have been similar.)
So why, specifically, the problem with Obama? Renowned, liberal, Pulizter Prize winning, political cartoonist Pat Oliphant explains:
"With Bush, you had that general vacuity -- those blanked-out eyes and those goofy expressions. As for Obama, Thank God for his ears. A good-looking president isn't good for cartooning."
Suggestion that a good-looking, cool, smart, articulate, Democrat in the White House might make things difficult to near impossible for liberal political cartoonists was met with this stern response:
Cartoonists take umbrage at the suggestion they will go soft on Obama because they agree with him ideologically. The cartoon landscape will probably be similar to the early presidential days of Bill Clinton, whom they came to regard as a wayward friend, Wilkinson said.
"The Clintons came in with a great deal of hope," she recalled. "You want to be supportive for the home team. So if you like them and they're the home team, it's a little harder to make fun of them.
Even they can't defend themselves. The Democrats are the home team and Barack Obama is the MVP. Even if he isn't immediately successful in bringing about a liberal utopia, he'll still be considered, at worst, "a wayward friend," like his predecessor, Bill Clinton.