Saturday, August 22, 2015

Oliphant on Carter

Having already shared my ballpoint pen tracing of Pat Oliphant caricatures of Presidents Nixon and Ford, I guess the news that former President Jimmy Carter has cancer means that this week's Sweaterback Saturday ought to feature Oliphant's vision of the 39th President of the United States.

In this case, it's a daunting proposition: I have three pages of these Jimmy Carters. I was in college for much of Carter's presidency, able to hop on over to the library and trace every Oliphant cartoon in the periodicals rack, and to rummage through the hometown newspapers thrown out by others in the dorm. I don't want to overwhelm you, dear reader, with every last one of these Jimmies, so here's a select representation.

Unlike with Nixon, Carter was virtually unknown outside of his home state prior to his candidacy for the presidency, so I know of no Oliphant cartoons about Carter's governorship (1971-1975). As did most cartoonists in 1976, Oliphant fixated on Candidate Carter's omnipresent grin as the basis for caricature.

After Carter was inaugurated and had to deal with a Congress and other world leaders who played much harder to get than the American electorate had, there was less reason for Carter, the man or the cartoon, to smile. Oliphant saw in Carter's foreign policy emphasis on Human Rights and his domestic policy of urging Americans to lower their thermostats a humorless puritan.

Over time, given the 1979 "Malaise speech" and the 444-day-long Iranian hostage crisis, Oliphant's Carter shrunk in stature, perpetually at the mercy of events. Cartoon Carter even lost quite a bit of his hair, aging faster than the real man. Perhaps Oliphant had the portrait of Dorian Gray somewhere in mind.

Oliphant has continued over the years to give Carter no break, drawing him as a dour, Bible-toting wet blanket in this 1995 sketch, or as a grumpy, pug-nosed dwarf in his 2004 "Legacies" cartoon. (At least Cartoon Carter's hair has grown back.) At any rate, Oliphant has only posted two cartoons at all in the past year, so he may not rush to his drawing board to make nice just because of a little brain cancer.

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