Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Obamacare, spying finally perk cartoonists’ criticism

11/4/2013

Forget opinion polling.

Perhaps a better way to gauge shifts in public sentiment — or predict looming political crises — is to watch the editorial cartoons on your local newspaper’s editorial page. They predicted the demise of the U.S. housing bubble years before it burst. They exposed the “Fast and Furious” arms scandal months before it was on the radar of broadcast journalists. And now they’re forecasting trouble for President Obama.

Forget opinion polling.

Perhaps a better way to gauge shifts in public sentiment — or predict looming political crises — is to watch the editorial cartoons on your local newspaper’s editorial page. They predicted the demise of the U.S. housing bubble years before it burst. They exposed the “Fast and Furious” arms scandal months before it was on the radar of broadcast journalists. And now they’re forecasting trouble for President Obama.

Some are calling him a joke, others a liar.

It’s safe to say American editorial cartoonists trend toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, using a creative and progressive means of expression to challenge the status quo, point out hypocrisy in government or society and spread a particular point of view. Such cartoonists had a field day during the presidency of George W. Bush, a larger-than-life character who lended himself easily to satire, lampooning and ridicule. Bob Englehart of The Hartford Courant — whose syndicated cartoons occasionally run in The Herald — always depicts Bush as a child-like dictator who must wear a helmet for his own protection.

Such characterizations are natural for many cartoonists. Criticizing or mocking Barack Obama is not.

Obama has been unbelievably insulated from the biting wit of America’s editorial cartoonists for the first several years of his presidency (as well as his candidacy). It wasn’t until the domestic spying, Justice Department journalist targeting and Internal Revenue Service controversies earlier this year that the politically minded artists first turned their pens toward the nation’s chief executive. When the scandals (as well as a brief flare-up over possible military action in Syria) died down, those cartoonists turned their attention back to more traditional and safe adversaries — Republicans, the Tea Party and greedy corporations.

But with Americans increasingly frustrated with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act — the hallmark legislation of Obama’s presidency — and many people even believing their leader intentionally misled them over “Obamacare,” more and more editorial cartoonists than ever seem to be cranking up the heat on our 44th president.

What changed?

Well, it started with the universally abysmal launch of Healthcare.gov, the online portal expected to guide Americans through the process of purchasing health insurance through the federal marketplace. A month after the portal went live, problems persist with Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary and former Kansas governor, saying she hopes it will be fully operational by the end of November.

We won’t hold our breath.

After first denying the existence of problems with the website, then adamantly defending herself and the Obama administration, Sebelius eventually fell on her sword last week, apologizing for the portal’s shortcomings and pledging to fix them ASAP. But isn’t Obama himself culpable for any of this? After all, passage of the Affordable Care Act was a key success story for the president’s first term, right? Americans aren’t buying the idea that the buck stops with Sebelius — and neither are editorial cartoonists.

The harrowing Healthcare.gov launch isn’t Obama’s only headache though. With implementation of the health care law now under way, many people finally are learning how much their premiums will rise under Obamacare. While the legislation undoubtedly is a godsend for some, others are finding the sticker shock more than a little difficult to stomach. Obama told Americans their premiums would fall. He told them they could keep the health care they liked. He said they wouldn’t have to change doctors.

Turns out, Obama was wrong. And he knew it when he repeatedly made those promises.

Most Americans might be fickle and prone to obliviousness when it comes to politics, but we notice when our wallets get lighter. And editorial cartoonists notice when the public’s mood begins to sour. We’re puckered and the cartoonists smell a lemon.

Obama’s newfound critics, however, aren’t only concerned with broken promises over the Affordable Care Act — especially when it comes to the international realm. Foreign editorial cartoonists were noticeably disgusted by the Obama administration’s bumbling, but hawkish handling of the row over Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its own people. Their ire was sparked even further by new revelations of U.S. spying — this time involving far-reaching surveillance programs that targeted American allies in Germany, France and even Mexico.

Obama was supposed to be the peace president. He was supposed to be someone they could trust. Now they see him as they see most U.S. presidents: a power-hungry ruler consumed with growing the American empire at the expense of the rest of the world.

Republicans gleefully sneering at these turns of events, of course, should tread lightly and take heart. Criticism of Obama — as welcome and overdue as it might be to some — doesn’t mean the world’s editorial cartoonists suddenly have aligned with GOP interests. Their pens still are quick to draw Republicans as enemies of common sense, as well as women, minorities and the poor.

Cartoonists now taking aim at Obama merely are validating the idea that even he should be held accountable for his words and policies. They finally are lifting the veil they themselves and many in the media initially threw over the Obama administration — taking a more focused look and questioning long-accepted talking points.

Will it last?

Don’t draw your conclusions in pen just yet.

— Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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