TOPICS > Politics

Illustrated Men

October 31, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, a different kind of presidential campaign portrait, the one drawn by four editorial cartoonists from around the country: Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News, who we hope to join–who we hope will join us in a moment; Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic; Doug Marlette of NewsDay; and Steve Kelley of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Steve Kelley, has this been a good campaign for you editorial cartoonists?

STEVE KELLEY, San Diego Union-Tribune: (San Diego) Oh, it absolutely has. There’s no question about it. There have been a–a lot of very distinct differences between these candidates, especially between Dole and Clinton, Clinton, of course, who represents big government, Dole, who wants to reduce the size of government. Dole is considered a little too old. Clinton is considered young. Dole is considered very honest and forthright. Clinton is sort of the prince of indiscretion, if you will. So, uh–

JIM LEHRER: Good stuff for you.

STEVE KELLEY: All of those things are, are very good, and, of course, they all have very strong personalities. And, uh, if you throw Ross Perot into the mix, you know, he’s sort of like this little clown running around with, uh, cream pies and seltzer bottles, it–it’s all very–it’s just terrific fodder for political cartoonists.

JIM LEHRER: Terrific fodder, Doug Marlette?

DOUG MARLETTE, Newsday: (Raleigh, NC) Yeah. Cartoonists look at, um, at national trauma and disaster the way that, that say a plastic surgeon looks at cellulite and crow’s feet, you know, as unfortunate but its a living.

JIM LEHRER: Steven Benson, how do you look at this?

STEVE BENSON, Arizona Republic: (Tempe, AZ) Well, I think it’s great for a cartoonist because it’s easy doing this job when you have the entire government working for you. You know, Will Rogers said I have 535 writers, 435 are in the House and the others in the Senate. What’s challenging and interesting for me in particular is waking up every morning to see which face Bill Clinton has on, and in fact, I’ve been told he’s going to be putting two new faces on Mt. Rushmore if he’s reelected, they’ll both be his. So it is interesting, and it is, uh, Bill Clinton reminds me of Mr. Potato Head. He’s got a pear for a head, tomato for a nose, French fries for teeth, and he can rearrange those on his head like he rearranges his position, so this is a real challenge for us.

JIM LEHRER: Doug Marlette, so it’s safe to say that with all these other people out there who’ve been taught–people in the other part of journalism have said, ah, this is a boring dull campaign, you folks, you’re going to be sorry when it’s over, right?

DOUG MARLETTE: Well, you know, actually, you know the candidates are closer on their positions than–but what I like about them, it allows the cartoonists–we thrive on the personality distinctions and differences. And there’s such a contrast, you know, Clinton is, um, he is the zike geist. I mean, he–I think one of the reasons he’s waltzing back into office this time–is because he reflects this age and this time we live in, uh, all the things that the other cartoonists were complaining about are actually the way this country is, and, and Clinton is it–he’s kind of a human TV remote, and he kind of channel surfs his own convictions and, and, you know, this is where we are in America, is it’s fascinating, where is Dole in contrast is so uncomfortable inside his own skin, he kind of makes Richard Nixon look like a party animal like, like Jim Carry.

JIM LEHRER: I hear you. Okay. Well, look, let’s look at some of your works in this campaign. Well, first on President Clinton, here’s a Mike Peters cartoon… Here’s Steve Kelley… A Marlette… And a Benson… Now, Steve Kelley, President Clinton is, as you say, is good material, right? Easy to draw?

STEVE KELLEY: He is–he is exceedingly easy to draw. He, uh, you know, he has sort of a big jaw, and he’s got this round, bulbous nose, and fuzzy hair, and, uh–you just–he’s just–he’s terribly easy for me, and he’s been there for four years, and, and frankly, I can’t think of anyone who will prosper more from four years of his being in the White House than I would.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Doug Marlette, do you agree?

DOUG MARLETTE: Oh, yeah, no. He’s, he’s a lot of fun. Every politician becomes easy over time. The, the–

JIM LEHRER: Why? What do you mean?

DOUG MARLETTE: Well, they–they–cartoonists come fine-tuned, their caricature. They all are caricatures, kind of the Pinocchio theory, you know, their noses grow, the longer they serve. Their features rearrange themselves to be better caricatures. Clinton has grown–there’s this kind of squishy water-bloom quality to his jaw that has grown and kind of sunk, and he has–he has good features. Dole has wonderful features but they’re different. You know, I–Clinton is so, um, you know, he looks like his appetites–I mean, he has a soft quality, and whereas Dole has a darkness–a Darth Vader quality.

JIM LEHRER: Steve Benson, you want to add anything to what you said a moment ago about President Clinton?

STEVE BENSON: Well, yeah. I’d have to agree with Doug that President Clinton is the Pillsbury Dough Boy of morality. You push him here, and he’ll poke out there. He’ll change to–it’s kind of like an amoeba, fits the, uh, fits the moment, but he is–he is great fun to draw, and I think Dole is right on the money when he said he looked like Bozo, because as Steve Kelley said he’s got the fuzzy hair and the big nose, and what more could a cartoonist ask for?

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Let’s look at some Dole cartoons. Again, beginning with Mike Peters–we may have to end up talking about Mike Peters in his absence here in a moment–but here’s a Mike Peters cartoon about, uh, about Bob Dole. Here’s a–here’s a Kelley and a Marlette. I want to keep this up long enough to where the audience can read all of that. And here’s a Benson. Okay. How about Bob Dole as material, Steve Kelley?

STEVE KELLEY: Well, I’ve always thought, although I sort of support Bob Dole philosophically, I always thought that physically he resembles what Hollywood would look for if they were–if they were going to cast the part of an undertaker. He’s–he’s tall and dark and, uh, sort of solemn and has sort of a sullen cast to his, to his character. So if, if I were a casting agent, I were looking for someone to play the, the mortician or the undertaker, I would look for Bob Dole.

JIM LEHRER: Doug Marlette, what about Bob Dole?

DOUG MARLETTE: Yeah. I think he is–has that mortician look. He reminds me of, you know, he’s from Kansas, and he reminds me of the way Kansas looked in the “Wizard of Oz,” I mean, black and white, in contrast to, you know, if he’s Kansas, Bill Clinton is Oz.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Steve Benson. Steve Benson, Bob Dole.

STEVE BENSON: Yeah. Bob Dole reminds me of a Boris Karloff without a sense of humor. You know, Bob–

JIM LEHRER: You guys are really, really vicious, but go ahead, keep talking.

STEVE BENSON: I’m afraid that if he smiles his face will break, but he’s great fun to draw. He’s always complaining and has this whining character about quit lying about my character and quit lying about the media portrayals of me, and that’s why, of course, you know, he says he’s come up, he’s been strong, he’s overcome adversity, and yet he still can’t seem to get a shake from the media, and he’s certainly not going to get one from us.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think anybody is. Here’s Ross Perot. Let’s look at some Perot cartoons, beginning again with the absent Mike Peters. All right, Steve Kelley, here’s your sample, your Perot cartoon. Doug Marlette on Perot. And Benson on Perot. Now where would you, Steve Benson, put Ross Perot on the, on the material scale?

STEVE BENSON: I think he’s affably maniacal. You know, he reminds me of Dumbo. He makes a big flapping noise with his ears, but once you get past that sensation, what is there, there? One of the most irritating things for me is to listen to Ross Perot whine–and then ask, isn’t that correct, as if people are going to be out in the audience saying no. But he is kind–he is kind of like the crazy uncle you have up in the attic and bring down for Thanksgiving and send him back up.

JIM LEHRER: But doing cartoons about it, that’s what I mean–is he–is that easy?

STEVE BENSON: Can you say ears? I mean–

JIM LEHRER: Okay. I got you. You answered my question. Steve Kelley.

STEVE KELLEY: He’s–he’s delightfully unpredictable. He’s impish and his, his–the way he speaks is just–it’s so much fun to write–I drew a cartoon of him one time, and I had him rambling on, uh, about the debate decision, and he said something like a stitch in time saves nine, but a duck won’t quack if he walks like a chicken. And, uh, it’s just so easy to write this nonsense, and it sounds like Ross Perot. He’s–he’s a wonderful extra element in this race for, for cartoonist.

JIM LEHRER: And how would you–what would you say about that, Doug Marlette?

DOUG MARLETTE: You know, he is–he is kind of like a bad cold; he won’t go away. But he–but he’s, uh, he, he reminds me of–um–it’s that craziness–I drew him early on–I drew him with bats flying out of his ears and now these days I want to draw a bat with Ross Perot’s flying out of his ears. It’s, uh, but have you noticed by the way how we cartoonists have learned to speak fluent sound bite. I mean–

JIM LEHRER: I realize that. I’ve noticed that. I mean, the first thing I noticed about 10 minutes ago. All right. The Dole tax cut–on issues, uh, the Dole tax cut plan–here’s Steve Kelley on the 15 percent. And here’s Marlette on the same issue–well, kind of the same issue–yeah, the budget’s being balanced. All right. Now on campaign finance and the Indonesia connection, a Mike Peters cartoon. And here’s Benson on the same issue. Issues hard to draw, Steve Benson?

STEVE BENSON: Well, money is always kind of a, a difficult one to get a grasp on, particularly if you’re trying to report it on your DNC campaign finance reports. It seems like with Indo-amnesia, the Democrats have forgotten the lesson of Watergate. Now we have John Huang Silver or at least his silver going to Buddhist Temples and, and now returning the money, and we have a meeting 78 times with the White House over the last few months. It looks like we are in great need of some close scrutiny of campaign finances, and, you know, Bill Clinton said he appreciates his good friends in Indonesia, whether it be in Vietnam during the war years, or over there now with regard to campaign finance.

JIM LEHRER: Doug Marlette, what about issues in cartoons?

DOUG MARLETTE: That’s great. I’m really struck by how we all–we sound like Ross Perot. We all speak in these sound bites. I’m not sure what we’re saying, but, but, uh, yeah, no, that, that particular issue–drawing Bob Dole as Peter Pan–I mean, you know, you have someone who’s actually–central casting would cast him as Captain Hook. Uh, you know what–I find interesting as both candidates move towards the center and, and as television more and more affects–as it’s even affecting us cartoonists–uh, how, how candidates present themselves–what interests me is how, uh, Clinton and Dole and, and even Perot I think are not that different in their positions, and so their personalities become more visible, and we end up caricaturing the personalities.

JIM LEHRER: Rather than the issues?

DOUG MARLETTE: Yeah. Everything becomes homogenized more and more, and everyone is trying to play to that middle and be unoffensive.

JIM LEHRER: Steve Kelley, serious question. When you sit to draw a cartoon every day like one of these that we just saw, do you see yourself as a humorist trying to make a–use a serious point to make a joke, or is it just the opposite? Do you see yourself as a serious person who is using humor to make a serious editorial point?

STEVE KELLEY: I think that I look upon my work as, as a long process, and people come and look at the cartoon day in and day out, and I think that over time, I want to have an effect on issues. I think that–

JIM LEHRER: A serious editorial effect.

STEVE KELLEY: Yes, absolutely. I want to add to the argument and, uh, to the extent that I believe people read cartoons and pay attention to them, I want to change minds. However, I try to infuse my work with humor because I think when I was a kid growing up, my mother used to put a lot of butter on vegetables so that we would eat them. Well, I think that humor is the butter on the vegetables. I think that if you–if you, uh, are amusing and entertaining, a little bit, that people will read you every day, and your effect over your career will be a lot greater.

JIM LEHRER: Steve Benson, do you see yourself as the vegetable or the butter?

STEVE BENSON: Well, you know, my mother used to say, Steve, you can catch a lot more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, and I thought, yeah, mom, but who wants a lot of flies, so that’s the way I’ve looked at it, but I think really ultimately, it’s the ideological line and the punch line that’s the most important. We ought to have a message to our work. We’ve only got seven seconds to drive home a point. We should use humor when it’s appropriate, but I think we ought to be a catalyst for discussion, for change in policy, for reexamination of our positions on issues. I like to regard us as the guy at the bar who throws the first punch and stands back and watches everybody in the bar join in. Hopefully through the process something comes out of it in this bar room we call democracy.

JIM LEHRER: Doug Marlette, how would you describe your role?

DOUG MARLETTE: I have no humorous childhood analogy or colorful expression from a relative to give you, but I think that really actually I disagree–I don’t feel that it’s my job to try to shape opinion. I wouldn’t–you know, I have enough trouble trying to shape my own opinion, and, uh, and so I simply try to do a drawing that keeps me awake through the process of drawing it. And if I can–if I can be awake, then possibly readers will be, uh, have a pulse. You know, if you hold a mirror under your nose, then you may get something.

JIM LEHRER: But you’re not driving by a political philosophy, or a political belief that you want people to share as a result of reading your cartoon?

DOUG MARLETTE: No. I tried to exercise the evangelist in my personality, in my comic strip, so, you know, I really actually don’t trust ideologues much as cartoonists. I find those ideological cartoons fairly boring. Uh, I think cartoonists–the best cartoonists are naturally anarchists in some sense, and they are–they are actually more artists than, than policy makers or wonks or whatever, and the, and the best ones are giving their vision or their way of seeing things that–that’s–and simply holding it up and letting the world look through their eyes as like a good athlete, you’re trying to get the world to play your game.

JIM LEHRER: But, Steve Kelley, you don’t see it that way. You don’t see yourself more as an artist. You see yourself more as somebody with an opinion you want to share.

STEVE KELLEY: Well, actually my convictions are a lot stronger than I guess–I know that Doug Marlette has very strong political convictions because I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. Um, I have very deeply felt political convictions, and I believe that they are reflected at least often in, in my work. From time to time, I do just a silly cartoon. The one that ran this morning in the newspaper was about, um, male-patterned baldness so–


STEVE KELLEY: –I mean, that’s as silly as it gets. But, um, I think that over, over a long span of my work, certainly a political philosophy emerges.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to–I’m sorry we have to go. I’m sure that if Mike Peters had been here, he would have said some terrific things that would have added to this, but we had technical problems where he was. We saw his cartoons, but we were not able to hear him. But we were able to hear the three of you. Thank you both very much–thank you all three very much.