A history of lampooning the mighty
From Washington declaring neutrality in the war between England and France to President Bush (both of them) declaring war on Iraq, American political cartoons have critiqued, criticized and lampooned the government and its leaders since the nation’s inception.
“American Political Cartoons: The Evolution of a National Identity, 1754-2010” uses 345 illustrations to tell the story of the American democratic process, warts and all. It updates an earlier book by the same authors, Stephen Hess and Sandy Northrop, originally published in 1996.
Events of the intervening years have given cartoonists a lot of material. Some of it’s been juicy: The Lewinsky affair, the “hanging chads” of the 2000 election and, more recently, vice presidential candidate turned “mama grizzly” Sarah Palin. Some of it’s been somber: 9/11, two wars, the Great Recession.
But despite their power in shaping public opinion, newspaper political cartoonists have become an endangered species. Since 2005, write the authors, over 30 cartoonists have lost their jobs thanks to layoffs and buyouts at newspapers large and small. According to the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, there are about 75 full-time cartoonists working at newspapers — a number half the size of 20 years ago.