See All Topics

Home / Section: Editorial cartooning

CSotD: RGB Reality Check

Let Us Review

Obituary cartoons are often cloying, unimaginative and sometimes foolishly off-target, but they are also a necessary way to help a cartoonist’s community mourn.

Sometimes, however, they rise above, and Thomas Nast’s piece mourning the death of James Garfield is an example: The Statue of Liberty was so new as to not yet figure in national images, and Uncle Sam was more often a symbol of governance, not the nation as a whole.

Columbia was the preferred figure for the moment, and Nast shows her not as the powerful goddess in her armor, wielding her sword, but merely as a woman, unarmed, unable to protect and deep in mourning.

It is Columbia’s normally stern, powerful, protective stance that makes this different than the flood of weeping Statues of Liberty that, 120 years later, marked 9/11.

“We’re all sad” is sentimental trivia. “We’re all powerless” is a frank and deeply sorrowful statement.

 

Note, too, that Nast had 79 days to contemplate the looming death of Garfield.

By contrast, Bill Mauldin was at a press luncheon when the news of JFK’s assassination was announced. He rushed back to the Sun-Times newsroom and had his iconic Mourning Lincoln drawn and ready for the  Extra edition being pushed out that afternoon.

By 1963, the Statue of Liberty was well-established as a symbol of America but, once again, a better cartoonist offered a better-targeted message: Not only is the Lincoln statue a symbol of the nation, but the cartoon depicts one murdered president, one murdered man, mourning another.

The story goes that the Sun-Times, having no sports to place on its back page, ran Mauldin’s piece full-page and the Chicago newsies flipped the stack to display not the front page, but the back, causing a sell-out.

Jackie Kennedy later requested, and received, the original.

 

So what have we got this morning?

Let’s start by saluting everyone who pushed out a cartoon, Mauldin-like, as soon as the news hit, and “My cartoon runs on Wednesday” is no excuse, given the significance of the moment.

But let’s hold even them to a higher standard, since, like Nast, they’ve had time to think this one over. Weeping Statues of Justice are thin soup indeed when the topic has been on the table for so long.

Let’s take a look at some of the better efforts:

Nick Anderson comes close to the dreaded weeping statue, but rises well above it by showing Justice kneeling as Ginsburg passes.

It evokes not only the notion of genuflecting before an honored figure, but perhaps hints at the type of political expressions under attack and in need of RGB’s defense, the grounded sword suggesting the leadership even a powerful goddess requires.

But the touch to be admired is the weary wave from a retiring judge. “I have done what I could, I can do no more. Farewell, my friend and colleague.”

 

Clay Bennett combines the metaphor of the half-staff flag with a salute to Ginsburg’s steady defense of the Constitution, offering a message of distress in addition to a plain statement of sorrow.

There will be plenty of messages in the days to come, but they will likely be more partisan than this. Bennett is not pointing fingers, but simply indicating that we mourn Ginsburg’s passing from life because it is also her passing from the nation’s highest bench.

It certainly stands in stark contrast to Mitch McConnell’s vulgar response — posted within moments of the announcement of her death — in which he made a pro forma salute to her and then defiantly announced his intention to replace her as quickly as possible.

Bearing in mind that the GOP replaced Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. They aren’t required to nominate someone who mirrors her values, but, dammit, they also aren’t required to insult our intelligence.

As so often with this crew, however, it’s not a bug but a feature.

 

Portraits of the deceased are generally too bland an effort to merit notice, but Christine Sharp weds this picture to the final wishes of the justice, as dictated to her granddaughter shortly before her death.

Someone on Twitter expressed the hope that Ginsburg would haunt McConnell, but I’m not sure the Jewish concept of the afterlife allows for such things.

However, Sharp begins a different type of haunting — activist haunting — that should reach beyond McConnell and into the ranks of GOP Senators and into the ranks of voters.

As to the other kind, McConnell indeed bears the chains he forged in life, and if you want to see some of the links, check out this Fresh Air episode from April in which Jane Mayer, The New Yorker’s chief Washington correspondent, explains McConnell’s inner workings.

It could be a sad little Ebenezer Scrooge story, if he had a soul to which better spirits could appeal. Mayer explains

He had a middle-class upbringing. But at one point in his life, he shed his first wife and announced to friends, who are quoted in the story by name, that he had a plan, which was he wanted to find a rich wife. …  And the woman that he found was Elaine Chao, who is an heiress to a very lucrative shipping – maritime shipping company that her father founded and built.

Either by ghosts or by email, there is no point in appealing to the man who blocked the Merrick Garland nomination but is now determined to ram home whoever Trump and the Federalists want rammed home.

And probably none in appealing to Lindsey Graham, whose statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he now heads, is being batted around on Twitter.

I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.

He wanted it then, but I doubt he wants it now.

The key, rather, is to find four GOP Senators whose souls can be touched, or who can at least be touched by pragmatism, to act with honor. Lisa Murkowski has already stepped up.

Who else you got?

Finally, this note: People on social media are pointing out that it took some 89 days to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, and November 3 is only 45 days away.

But the current Senate will be in power until January 3, which is 106 days away.

We need four GOP senators who don’t fear the wrath of McConnell, Trump and Barr, or of being labeled RINOs by their constituents.

Keep mourning, but start working.

 

As Ann Telnaes has warned us, the game is already well in progress.

Community Comments

#1 Brad Walker
September/19/2020
@ 9:40 am

B is for Ginsburg.

Twice you ran RGB for RBG, once in the header and once in the text, despite the example of so many cartoons with the proper usage.

Good thing she wasn’t Clarice Yolanda Kathy Mendoza.

#2 phil von neupert
September/19/2020
@ 3:36 pm

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse. There is already talk of Biden “packing” the Court. As appealing as that sounds, it represents a further lowering of the bar. There MUST be another way. But then again, maybe it’s time to fight fire, with fire. The GOP has been so corrupt for so long that perhaps Biden will get away with it.

#3 Mike Peterson
September/19/2020
@ 4:41 pm

And yet you knew who I meant. (corrected)

I was focusing on the Ginsburg/Ginsberg issue.

#4 Mary McNeil
September/19/2020
@ 5:24 pm

I was (pleasantly ?) surprised to see that Barr did not send the storm troopers in to break up the gathering at the Supreme Court last night as they sang “Imagine.”

#5 Bill Ward
September/19/2020
@ 8:21 pm

The Ann Telnaes Game Board cartoon is alarmist bull shit. This sort of breathless, panicky hyperbole, be it from the right over the 2nd Amendment being under threat or Q-anon conspiracy theories or the left freaking out about the Pres workng with the Russians to steal the election; all of it, only serves to further decide the country and inflame the crazies on either end of the political spectrum. It does not serve the country. Shame on you!

#6 Heidi Melendez
September/19/2020
@ 8:58 pm

The infinite games of Mitch McConnell are endlessly in the
pursuit of his and his compatriots personal power. Right, wrong, ethical, even conservative values fall completely by the wayside.
I have no desire to see anyone pack the court but nor do I want to see any more in roads to the bill or rights.

#7 Emily Brown
September/20/2020
@ 12:25 am

“Court packing” is right-wing language from way back. It’s for good reason that the Constitution allows Congress to choose the number of sitting Justices. This is so the People have a way to check the power of the Court – the unelected branch of government where Justices serve for life. If the People elect enough representatives to pass legislation to expand the Court, they (We) should have our say.

#8 Kristen Nieto
September/20/2020
@ 5:05 am

Ann Telnaes is a genius, and I think the game board succinctly illustrates the GOP’s plan to keep Americans silent. There is more evidence of this being true than not, like the evidence and indictments and whistleblowers that point to Trump cheating the election with Russia’s help.

I’d argue that it’s serious enough to step outside the realm of QAnon and ThEy GoNnA tAkE oUr GuNs. Because we actually have evidence of this happening. Enough to map out a game board synopsis.

Nice Anderson made me physically cry over RBG for the first time. Until now, I have been masking my sorrow with anger and fear over my Constitutional access. But now that I’ve shed some tears, it’s time to start harassing my senator Thillis.

#9 Brad Walker
September/20/2020
@ 9:09 am

Corrected?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.