Waiting for the Fat Lady

Posted by on November 1st, 2010 at 1:55 PM

The gasbags on cable tv had an orgy of a frothing-at-the-mouth finale over the weekend: everywhere I looked, more guesswork effluvium about the likely outcome of the election on Tuesday. Everyone is guessing that the Jackass Party will lose seats in Congress and the Gigantic Obstructionist Pachyderm might gain ostensible control. That won’t change matters much: the Senate, where the GOP has been gumming up the works for two years, isn’t likely to suddenly become a streamlined legislative machine because no matter who has the simple majority, the filibuster requirement (that one party or the other have at least 60 votes so they can shut off filibustering) will continue to hold sway.

(And this, astonishingly enough, works without even actually filibustering: just the threat of filibustering is enough to turn out the lights in that August chamber. Why not let the threatening party go ahead and filibuster, talk and talk and talk until it reveals itself as a bunch of bloviating do-nothings—until, in other words, they talk themselves into oblivion by demonstrating to the nation’s voters how completely worthless they are as legislators? Now that would be progress.)

And control of the House doesn’t mean much as long as the Senate is bogged down. Even if the GOP gains a majority in both branches, hopes for a repeal of the health care legislation are dim: the Prez still has the veto, which will stop any move in that direction, and it takes 2/3 of the House to overcome a veto.

Gasbags, in other words, reign as campaigners as well as observers on the sidelines.

Judging from the ads on tv, this election season seems nastier than usual, but editoonists, while sharpening their barbs, still manage to maintain a professional decorum. In our first slide, we have David Fitzsimmons evoking as a metaphor for modern-day electioneering the gladiator combat in ancient Rome’s Colosseum wherein unarmed Christians were slaughtered for the amusement of the emperor—an entertainment at least as bloody as our contemporary rituals.

The political problem with character assassination is that once you’re demonized your opponent and his politics you can never work with anyone of that party; negative advertising effectively destroys any impulse for compromise, which, you may remember, was once touted as the art of politics.

Next, Clay Bennett performs one of his typically well-honed images for the dilemma every politician thinks this season that he has a solution for; but Bennett’s picture implies strenuously that the predicament is not amenable to solution by governmental means.

With John Cole, below, we’re back in the trenches of the campaign—or, perhaps, in the slurry of the sewer.

Cole applies his image to the toxic deluge of anonymous campaign financing by faceless corporations, but I see it as a telling metaphor for the corrosive flood of advertising with lies and half-truths that overwhelm voters with misinformation.

Nick Anderson doesn’t supply a visual metaphor for the “unaccountable” influence of big anonymous money in the election; instead, he simply strikes a comparison that seems insidiously accurate.

Bob Englehart in our next visual aid provides the most disgusting image of campaign financing by corporations, a metaphor the two observers reinforce with their comments.

A local historian in these parts, Tom Noel, asked us to stop a moment and think, offering a happier solution to the problems of campaign finance. After reviewing the bribery often deployed in elections of the 19th century, he said: “Many more millions are spent this fall to buy elections with often fallacious television ads that smear nearly every candidate. By the end of the race, winners as well as losers have been discredited. Instead of spending vast fortunes on such media excesses and dirty political tricksters, why not just pay voters directly as we did a century ago?”

The results, he said, would be altogether salubrious: “If voters were reimbursed and plied with free drinks to boot, we could greatly improve turnout and create better feelings about candidates [not to mention increased happiness among the voters]. Disgusted by the current process, many citizens stay home on Election Day. It is a struggle to get 50 percent of the eligible voters to the polls. In 1889, after all, voter partici9pation ran over 100 percent.”

Perfectly sane approach, I’d say. But then, I like a drink as well as the next person.

Below Englehart’s cartoon, John Darkow prolongs our contemplation of liquid pleasures by giving the GOP Pledge a meaning the Galloping Old Pachyderm probably didn’t intend—that of a bunch of drunks swearing off booze, which, in this metaphor, represents an addiction to spending. In a memorable verbal finish, one of the drunks asserts, as defensively as any practicing alcoholic, that “we’ve never been spenders and we’ll never do it again,” a self-contradiction of exactly the sort that a habitual drunk might make. Ditto the GOP. Delicious.

In our next pair of pictures, Nate Beeler begins with a series that makes its point by emphasizing the impossibility of proving a negative.

If the Truthers and the Birthers are to be ridiculed for the absurdity of their contention, so is the Obama administration in its assertion that the Chamber of Commerce is using foreign money in campaign ads. It’s a tricky comparison with a somewhat blurred rather than direct application; the metaphor lurches not a little. But Beeler’s caricatures of Biden, O’bama, and Axelrod are brilliant.

Eric Allie’s imagery is much more clearly on target and unmistakable. There “could be” a fire? Could be? Nicely done.

Mike Lester, a rampant conservative whose style and imagery I admire (if not his politics), presents a persuasive image of the issues in this year’s campaign.

If the GOP weakness is the craziness of the Tea Party, then the problem in the other party’s circumstance is that it needs a genii to produce magically a result they can’t otherwise claim. From Lester’s perspective, we know we can make tea by the pot, but we can’t be sure that rubbing the magic lamp will produce any results.

Pat Oliphant, as usual, takes the Tea Party to a ludicrous and therefore supremely hilarious extreme. And he’s got Sarah Livingston Palin serving the ambrosia to the gods.

In our next mini-sermon, Vic Harville extends the tea time metaphor by giving the tea bag the shape of a KKK hood, suggesting the racist aura that hovers over the Tea-baggers. Other editoonist have given the tea bag the classic hoodie, but Harville’s the only one who takes the next step.

Harville  clearly indicates that it is the NAACP that has fostered that impression about the tea totallers. (I disagree: I think the extreme views that are harbored by the Tea-baggers recruit all sorts of crazies, including the hooded kind.)

Pat Bagley, immediately below Harville, has some fun with witchcraft in the candidacy of Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, expanding the metaphor to the Oz and packing into his picture as many slights as he can manage.

In our next visual aid, Taylor Jones has taken O’Donnell’s “don’t touch yourself” in Bagley’s cartoon to the heights of absurdity.

“We the people will not masturbate” is as meaningful a campaign slogan as most of the others, and so we rejoice by posting Jones. His ability as a caricaturist is also worthy of applause.

Finally, we get to the inevitable: we have to wait until the end of the day tomorrow, November 2, for the resolution of all the contention and divisiveness. In Jeff Parker’s cartoon, the long-awaited Fat Lady is our well-padded pachyderm, and her song is self-adulation as well as a sly aggrandizing prediction about the outcome of the voting.

As the season of silliness comes to a close (or, at least, a temporary pause before it takes up again, too soon—always too soon), we think Jon Stewart’s words last Saturday at the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” might supply a suitable finish to this pre-election diatribe.

Concocted as a satirical response to Glenn Beck’s dubious “Restore Honor” event earlier in the month, Stewart and Stephen Colbert represent a distinctly different tv audience and self-identifying political constituency. At the rally, one enthusiast’s sign was two-sided and captured the essential difference: on one side was the Fox News logo with the legend “This is my comedy channel”; on the other side, the lettering below the Comedy Central logo read: “This is my news channel.” Too true.

Mike Littwin, a columnist for the Denver Post, attended the Stewart fest and reported on it, quoting Stewart: “We live now in hard times—not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.” The problem, he said, is with the volume control: “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

And the noisy so-called “debate” has obscured a reality that he perceived: that everyone in the country has found a way to work together. “The only place we don’t is here [in the nation’s capital] or on cable-tv,” he said, shifting much of the blame to Washington.

Littwin continued by exploring some implications. “We know that people are angry. It’s the anger enablers that Stewart is after because somebody has to be. … In 2008, angry voters tossed out Republicans. … Two years later, angry voters—some of the same people—are ready to toss out the Democrats. It doesn’t make sense until you notice how unfocused the anger can be.”

An idea, Littwin is quick to point out, not lost on some of Stewart’s followers. “People are angry, but at what?” He then conjures up the image of a sign he saw at the rally: “What do we want?” the sign asked; then answered: “Passive indifference! When do we want it? Later! Maybe?”

Come Wednesday in this corner, we’ll ponder the implications of the outcome by looking, one more time, at some of the most pungent editorial cartoons.

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