Four More Years

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AMERICANS HAVE BEEN turning out political cartoons since the dawn of the Republic, but in the nineteenth century the drawings tended to be verbose and cluttered, their characters trailing long ribbons of speech balloons as they stumbled over obscure symbols. It took the national turmoil that surrounded the emergence of Franklin Roosevelt to bring the art to its incisive, confident, acid maturity. On the eve of the election, we offer a portfolio of cartoons both admiring and execrating from the last thirteen presidential contests.

“Some Shoes to Fill!” is the title of the October 1932 cartoon seen here. It ran in the New York Herald Tribune , voice of the city’s Republican establishment. A spiffy Hoover towers over the disheveled New York governor. But with the economy in ruins, Hoover’s spats failed to charm the electorate, and on November 8 the terrified homunculus cowering in the corner of this drawing suddenly grew up to carry all but six states and gain 472 electoral votes to Hoover’s 59.

—Charles Monaghan

 

1936

Upper-class discomfiture over New Deal reforms was a favorite theme of pro-FDR cartoons, and Peter Arno’s vision of a plutocratic bunch heading for the latest newsreels was the most famous of them. Roosevelt’s “treason” to his “class” inspired particular fury in his fellow patricians. (When, after FDR’s death, this drawing was reprinted in an anthology with the caption respectfully changed to read “We’re going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Truman,” the cartoon became utterly meaningless.) Hissing the celluloid FDR was only slightly more futile than Alfred Landon’s 1936 race. The Kansan carried just two states. “As Maine goes,” said the Democratic National Committee chairman, James Parley, “so goes Vermont.”

 

1940

Following Roosevelt’s announcement for an unprecedented third term in 1940, opponents more and more frequently pictured him as a would-be dictator. In this 1940 cartoon from the Chicago Tribune —a leading FDR critic—Sen. Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, majority leader and New Deal loyalist, encourages Rooseveltian vainglory until the Nazi brownshirt and Hitler mustache appear. (The button popping off the shirt would remind readers of Fat Stuff, a character in the Smilin’ Jack comic strip in the paper.) FDR defeated Wendell L. Willkie, although the Republican candidate did receive twenty-two million votes, the most garnered by a beaten candidate to that time.

 

1944

Eleanor Roosevelt was a ubiquitous spokesperson for her husband’s administration. Opponents derided her prominent role, and this 1944 cartoon from the New York News also pokes fun at Sen. Harry S. Truman, FDR’s running mate. An ally of the Kansas City Pendergast machine, Truman was assailed as incompetent but joined the ticket as a “unity candidate” after Roosevelt dropped Vice-President Henry A. Wallace as too radical. FDR easily defeated the New York governor Thomas E. Dewey in the election.

1948

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” a 1948 campaign poster by the artist Ben Shahn, was painted for the left-wing Progressive party candidacy of Henry Wallace. It parodies a famous 1945 Life magazine photograph of Truman playing the piano while Lauren Bacall lounged on top of it. Shahn substituted the GOP candidate Dewey for Bacall. In a close election Truman beat Dewey, Wallace, and Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the candidate of Southerners who defected from the Democrats over civil rights.

 
 

1952

“Ixnay, Adlai” is the title of this 1952 cartoon from the New York News . The articulate, Princeton-educated Stevenson, Democratic governor of Illinois, is needled for his use of long words by the News , which was very much the journal read by New York’s working class. Joseph Medill Patterson, the paper’s founder, had backed Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936 but switched to the GOP column starting in 1940. The depiction of Stevenson emphasizes his baldness, which brought the word egghead into widespread use. Stevenson’s Republican opponent, the wartime hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, came into the campaign from the presidency of Columbia University. Despite this post and an equally bald head, he scored a decisive victory over the Illinois governor.

 

1956