Saturday, November 3, 2018

Midterms of Enfearment

For this week's installment of Salonback Saturday, I'm rehashing some of my favorite cartoons about midterm elections. Many of them have appeared in these journeys through my archives before. Given how few midterm election cartoons there are to choose from, I'd rather avoid some of the more hyperlocal ones requiring enough of tedious explanation to spoil the humor.

A while back, I mentioned my fictional Democrat, Luke Warmish, whose congressional career was interrupted in 1994.

There was no real Luke Warmish, but plenty of Democratic candidates were spooked by President Clinton's failure to get health care reform through a Democrat-majority Congress. This cartoon marks a profound difference between Democrats and Republicans as we were entering the Newt Gingrich era. Democrats head for the hills at the first sign of difficulty, for which they paid dearly in 1994 and 2010. (Today, they disavow any particular fondness for Nancy Pelosi.) Republicans rallied around their Republican president in 2002 and have done so again in 2018, in spite of Mr. Trump's high disapproval rating with voters.

It helps that gerrymandering has inoculated Republicans against the will of the general electorate, but the only Republicans you ever see admitting that they're not particularly fond of Trump's bombast, bigotry, divisiveness, and contempt for Constitutional principles, are the ones who have decided not to run for reelection.

You would hardly know it to look at my cherry-red home congressional district now, but for two decades, the seat was securely held by a Democrat, Les Aspin. The district still included Beloit and not the southern Milwaukee suburbs, and it ran on good-paying union jobs. Aspin barely broke a sweat at election time, especially after he was named chair of the House Armed Services Committee, winning more campaign contributions than he knew what to do with. His main campaign expense was printing new yard signs, changing colors every year. In some years they were orange; have you ever seen that color on a campaign yard sign?

An evergreen issue for election cartoons, midterm or full-term, is political advertising.

Most citizens don't have time to go to all the campaign rallies, and local TV news programs seldom pay attention to them unless a presidential (or Oprah Winfrey) visit is involved. I would guess that the readership for campaign mailers is also pretty low, so more voters get their information from candidate and advocacy group advertising.

There may be some ads run nation-wide, but most are strictly local, of little interest outside the district or state of the campaign. Here in Wisconsin, Republican Mark Neumann stretched the truth beyond recognition in a TV ad accusing incumbent Senator Russ Feingold of supporting federal spending on monkeys sent into outer space by the Russian space program. Feingold had opposed the budget item which somehow made it into the final budget bill anyway.

A commercial for an earlier race for Wisconsin's other senate seat, then held by Democrat Bill Proxmire, occasioned pre- and post-election cartoons that have to be presented as a pair. Once Proxmire won election to the late Joe McCarthy's seat in 1957, his national reputation for exposing government waste made him so popular at home that he was able to win reelection five times by overwhelming margins despite refusing outside campaign contributions and spending $200 or less of his own money on each campaign.
His hapless opponent in 1982, Scott McCallum, ran a TV ad trying to tie Proxmire to the sour economy by exploiting the plight of McCallum's unemployed brother. Meanwhile, President Reagan was working to convince the nation that unemployment rates were at last headed downward.
But no, Bill Proxmire didn't hire John McCallum. I made that up.

I don't mean for today's post to focus on my home state, but I can't recall drawing any cartoons about Minnesota politics (except for one upon the death of Hubert Humphrey) during my four years in college there. That in spite of the rather interesting election of 1978 with the governorship and both senate seats up for grabs. I followed the news in the newspapers, but didn't watch much television, so I guess I wasn't catching the candidates' commercials.

Occasionally, an ad from elsewhere in the country will grab my attention. In 2002, the Democrat running for reelection to the U.S. Senate by resorted the same sort of sneaky, underhanded innuendo about his opponent that Republicans get criticized for employing. But as Donald Trump would shrug, hey, it worked, didn't it?

Certain themes run through a lot of campaign commercials, since they have often been created by the same tried and true ad agencies and tested with scientifically selected focus groups. The candidates' names are interchangeable.


Hallowe'en was just a few days ago, and since it's always right before election day, it's natural fodder for election cartoons. It's a slam dunk to depict the candidates or their supporters as trick-or-treaters, as in this bite-sized candy from 2006 when Republicans were expected to lose several seats in the House and Senate.

I'm going to have to draw my first post-election cartoon this weekend. As you can imagine, that can be quite challenging. I close with a post-election cartoon from a year in which the campaign commercials made it difficult to support either candidate.




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