Thursday, November 7, 2013

In a similar vein

Ethics, ever vigilant watchdog, expected a long and rewarding career …
Someday, or so the plan went, I'd hang around long enough as an editorial cartoonist to have my own tropes — recurring characters and icons of my own devising to serve as whimsical shorthand for whatever evergreen ox I was goring.

Readers would see the trope traipse into the cartoon and know immediately the issue and my opinion.

I'm surprised more editorial cartoonists don't employ these devices. Now that I think on it, only one comes to mind.
Punk and Edmund Muskie

Of course, Pat Oliphant, my cartooning man crush: He is a master.

This isn't about jack-booted menaces representing anything
vaguely evil or fascist, or the Star of David to represent Israel, or a girded Mars to stand in for war. Republican elephants, Democratic donkeys —those are staple icons many cartoonists use, Oliphant included.
Jack Ohman's Gov. Brown spokesdog

Nor is it about Punk, the miniscule penguinish character who appears somewhere in almost every Oliphant cartoon, cracking wise on the downbeat. Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman has used the zeitgeist of his new job to conscript Gov. Jerry Brown's corgi, named Sutter, into the same role.

This is about what Oliphant does better than anybody, and that I had one shining chance to emulate.

Oliphant, for example, uses Uncle Sam (as others do) in all his Flagg-ian fury when the issue suits, as he did here following the 9/11 attacks:
But when the United States stumbles and bumbles and stinks up the world, as it's apt, Oliphant's Uncle Sam becomes W.C. Fields:
Pissing off multiple constituencies in one swift motion …
I wonder how long Oliphant can keep using this analogy, as Mr. Fields slips from our collective memory.

Similarly, Oliphant drags out a brutish, swarthy, money-counting thug to represent the national debt (I'm not sure whether he's a figure in literature or popular culture; something Dickensian, my narrow mind thinks; if you know, tell me).

When the Equal Rights Amendment was big and women's liberation was all the talk, Oliphant represented the issue as a breast-plated and helmeted Brunhilde, usually pummeling her milquetoast husband.

Oliphant isn't out to make friends.

So inspired, I created an ethics watchdog to safeguard the state Legislature, and made him way too small for his collar to show how well the Legislature designed it — present, but toothless.

Ethics made its debut following Shrimpscam, the FBI sting that ensnared several state officials and sent some lawmakers to jail. I 'tooned about it last post.

The Legislature wanted to clean house, or look like it was, after key lawmakers got caught taking bribes in exchange for favorable legislation.

The keeping up of upright appearances culminated, naturally, in voter initiatives. Because when your lawmaker doesn't know right from wrong, blame voters and punish them with a mumbly-jumbly proposition that may or may not do anything and gets tied up in court to boot.

Proposition 112 in 1990, which put strict limits on lawmakers' outside and under-the-table graft — and seems to have worked until the last couple of years — tied good behavior to a boost in lawmakers' pay. Presumably if our representatives were paid more, they wouldn't have to cadge strangers for their trips to Hawaii or college tuition for their kids. Honor comes at a cost.

California lawmakers this week just got a pay raise, shortly after the latest bribery scandal blew up. It's probably coincidence.

Little Ethics could still be on the job today, gumming miscreants into submission — if he could ever climb out of his spiked collar.

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