Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Front Porch Campaign

You, if you happen to be the most corrupt president in the history of the United States, might mock Joe Biden for (supposedly) campaigning from his basement this summer. But in a way, Biden's low-travel campaign hearkens back to the way things were a century ago. As this year's campaign kicks off in earnest, here's what editorial cartoons had to say about the campaigns of 1920.

"And Everybody Was Expecting Turmoil" by Billy Ireland in Columbus Dispatch, August, 1920

I've enlarged Mrs. Buckeye's dialogue balloon, but since it's still hard to read on most screens, I'll copy it here: "Everybody said when they heard it was twins that we Buckeyes were in for an awful busy summer but things have been slipping along so quiet you wouldn't know the twins were in the house!"

"Interpreting the Oracle" by Rollin Kirby in New York World, August, 1920

Warren Harding's front porch campaign was itself a throwback to an earlier time. William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt embraced the whistlestop style, campaigning to large crowds of citizens from the back of a train or in packed civic squares. Once upon a time, however, such pandering to the hoi polloi was considered beneath the dignity of the presidency. Campaigning was done by surrogates — assuming that the candidate's message remained intact through the surrogates' interpretation.

"The Burning Question" by Clifford Berryman in Washington (D.C.) Evening Post, August 17, 1920
Harding promised a return to what he called "normalcy," adding a new word to the English language. What "normalcy" would look like was largely up to the voter's imagination. 

Mr. Harding would in fact venture out on the hustings in September, not unlike the tradition up until recently of starting the presidential campaign in earnest only after Labor Day. The Democratic ticket, however, was already waging a much more active campaign.

"The Beauty and the Bathers" by Jay N. "Ding" Darling in Colliers, September 4, 1920

This is an unusual cartoon in that "Ding" Darling includes the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There have occasionally been editorial cartoonists who drew the Veep candidate often (e.g., Thomas Nast and B. Gratz Brown; R.C. Bowman and Adlai Stevenson); but as a rule, you didn't find a lot of ink spent on the #2 spot on the ticket.

I'll be surprised if I run across any more cartoons about either FDR or Calvin Coolidge between now and — frankly — the centennial of Harding's demise.

"What's Detaining You?" by T.E. Powers for Star Company, ca. Sept. 2, 1920
Whether the U.S. ought to join the League of Nations may have been the dominant issue in the 1920 campaign, but there were others.
"Everything but the Crowd" by Albert T. Reid in The National Republican, ca. August 27, 1920

Republican cartoonist Albert Reid crammed as many complaints against the Democratic Party as he possibly could into this cartoon, and you can easily imagine Antonio Branco, Ben Garrison, Mike Lester, or any of the other partisan Republican cartoonists regurgitating the same cartoon today. Just replace Cox with Biden, Europe and the League of Nations with China and the World Health Organization, and Murphy and Taggart with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"The Dickens of It..." by Jay N. "Ding" Darling in New York Tribune, August, 1920

Darling here packed in even more "political garbage" than is in Reid's sideshow; "U.S. Snail Service" taking up the left barge resonates anew today. Yet there is a distinct sense in this cartoon that the Democratic nominee is saddled with "8 years accumulation of political garbage" unfairly. Cox wields his "League Issue" oars against the "tide of public opinion that the Democrats have bungled"; Democratic bungling is not presented as actual fact.

Darling, a loyal Republican, departed from most of his party on the issue of the League of Nations. He did not support Warren Harding, although he was ultimately not impressed with James Cox, either.

"Vox Pop Versus Vox Cox" by John T. McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, ca. Sept. 1, 1920

John McCutcheon put forth the same vague sentiment as the tide of public feeling, but without bothering to mention any specifics. "Solid South" demands "four more years of office holding," while Cox complains that "The Republicans are trying to buy you." More on that in a moment.

"The New Housekeeper" by Cyrus Hungerford in Pittsburgh Sun, September 4, 1920
The ratification of the 19th Amendment added a new wrinkle to political prognostication. Plenty of cartoons poked fun at couples whose votes would now cancel each other out; Cy Hungerford instead predicted that women's role would be to clean up the mess menfolk had made of things.
"The New Campaign Issue" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, Aug./Sept., 1920

James Cox tried to add another issue to the campaign, accusing Republicans of amassing a $16 million slush fund. The GOP denied it, and when Cox personal representative E.H. Moore testified before a congressional committee, he proved short on specifics.

"The Old Porch Chair" by Rollin Kirby in New York World, Sept. 4, 1920
What one believed depended upon what one was predisposed to believe. (Sound familiar?)
"It Almost Awakened the Dog" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, Sept. 4, 1920

Since it is Labor Day weekend, let's close today's entry off with an election year labor cartoon from the summer of 1920.

"Labor's Laboratory" by Wallen for Labor Feature Service, August, 1920

Keep the Labor in Labor Day, and have a safe and happy weekend!

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