Friday, March 25, 2011


Today's David Horsey cartoon at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows a smarmy-looking man in a black suit labelled House GOP having raided the pan of a mother and her children begging for money on a sidewalk. Their sign reads "Federal poverty programs."

"Mom!" the woman's young son shouts, "He just took our food money!"

"Be a patriot, kid!" House GOP replies. "Somebody's got to pay to balance the budget."

I enjoy David Horsey, in no small part because for a political cartoonist, he's a clear and technically-adept artist, able to put emotion and movement into his characters in such a way that his drawing tells excellent stories. But, like many political cartoonists these days, he's a political chauvinist, wearing his politics on his sleeves, and clearly favoring one side over the other.

I understand the basic point - that it seems heartless to seek to cut social programs rather than raise taxes on wealthier people. And it plays into the stereotype that Republicans, despite their avowed disdain for anything that smacks of "class warfare," consistently side with the wealthy against the poor and middle class. And, let's be honest, the combination of new found Republican zeal for budget cutting, their faith that business will be the answer to America's problems and the lingering ghost of the disaster that was "trickle-down economics" doesn't do them any favors in this regard.

It's easy (perhaps too easy) to paint the Republicans as looking for new ways to injure the poor. It's certainly a lot easier than believing that there's nothing politically motivated about their policy choices. But it's also easier than presenting a more nuanced view of what's happening. Although I'd be mightily surprised to find that the programs targeted for cuts aren't mainly those things supported by Democrats, I'd also be very surprised to find that there was any actual intent to injure people. While I'm not the sort to think that social safety nets should be done away with as a matter of principle, I do understand that a reasonable case can be made that they aren't the only or best way to help people. (Republicans also suffer from the idea that they subscribe to a supposed Ayn Randian worldview that seeks to blame the poor for their circumstances, and thus are hostile to hand outs, hands up and anything in between.)

I'm not sure that I understand how you create a cartoon in which the man tells the family that he's acting in what he understands to be their (and everyone else's) long-term best interests, and not have him come off any better than he does as a brazen thief. But if political cartooning is nothing more than illustrated partisan commentary, what purpose does it serve, other than to be just another outlet to preach to the converted and irritate the non-believer? Do we really need yet another vehicle for polarization? Another mirror for the faithful to see their prejudices and judgments reflected back at them?

Auditory or visual, such is the nature of echo chambers. They fill with information, yet you can learn nothing from them.

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