JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Political cartoonists are often the sharpest critics of presidents and their policies. That's as clear as black and white at an exhibit now hanging at the American University's Katzen Art Center in Washington. It's called "Bush Leaguers: Cartoonists Take on the White House." And it relentlessly skewers the current president and his administration. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists organized this show as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. We took a tour with Rex Babin of the Sacramento Bee and Mikhaela Reid of alternative weeklies, two of the cartoonists who make it their business to give our leaders an occasional kick in the shin.
Ms. MIKHAELA REID (Cartoonist): I have to thank George W. Bush for rescuing me from the dreary life of a non-cartoonist. Whatever you can say about his administration, it's been party season for cartoonists.
YDSTIE: The Bush administration was ambitious and if you take on ambitious things, you're going to find yourself on the - in the cartoons on the editorial page.
Mr. REX BABIN (Cartoonist): Well, that's absolutely correct. And I mean cartoonists by nature will go after power. If you go to the exhibit and look at my cartoon, there's one about Bush's intelligence.
YDSTIE: Where is that?
Mr. BABIN: It's not far from - there it is. It has the classic blocks that children play with; of course he's got the square block in a round peg, and then he's also wearing his wonderful flight suit, which has been a joy for cartoonists.
YDSTIE: And what you've got is the cutline says bad intelligence.
Mr. BABIN: Correct.
YDSTIE: The President is getting the blocks in the wrong places.
Mr. BABIN: Right, it doesn't really get into the meat of the policy or anything like that, but it's just a plain gag and it makes people laugh.
YDSTIE: Did you get flack for this?
Mr. BABIN: Absolutely. I mean, for a long time - anytime I said anything critical of the president or his policies, there'd be all sorts of calls questioning my patriotism and such.
YDSTIE: Let me ask you if each of you has a couple of cartoons by other cartoonists that you've seen as you've looked around the exhibit that you really like.
Mr. BABIN: Let's start with Mikhaela.
Ms. REID: Yeah, sure. It's by Kurt Anderson. This cartoon is called "Militant Fundamentalism," and it shows in the first panel George Bush standing in front of civilian casualties in Iraq, and then in the second panel you have Osama bin Laden standing in front of some people who he's been responsible for the death of, and they're both saying just doing the work of the Almighty. Everyone claims that God is on their side and I think that this is just a really powerful cartoon and very serious. Not all cartoons have to be funny.
YDSTIE: All right. So Rex, you've got one right here?
Mr. BABIN: Yes, three panels. This one's by Jim Boardman of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and its George W. Bush in the first panel, and it says surge, and in the second panel with Alberto Gonzales says purge, dealing with the political firings in the Justice Department. And then the last panel is Uncle Sam with his face in a bucket and it says re-gurge.
YDSTIE: That's pretty funny.
Mr. BABIN: It's funny, and this is where cartoons are at their best, because they use humor to make an absolutely vicious political point.
YDSTIE: Cartoonists are in the business of lampooning. So it doesn't mater who is in office, you're going to find things that they do, because they're powerful, that you're going to lampoon.
Ms. REID: If we didn't have a president who every week gave me so many issues I had to do something about, I might draw cartoons about dating or social issues, or bad fashions.
Mr. BABIN: Issue-oriented cartoons are actually more satisfying, because you're talking about issues that transcend administrations. I mean, I quite frankly am getting a little tired of drawing George W. Bush and we'll welcome when we can go back and start getting into more issue-oriented cartoons.
Ms. REID: I know.
YDSTIE: In about a year and a half, you're going to get a chance to draw some other people. Anyone that you're just salivating to get your pen on?
Mr. BABIN: I would like Al Gore to enter into the race. Since he's put on weight, he's become a lot more fun to draw, and...
Ms. REID: In terms of the Democratic field, I'm really not a fan of Hillary. I think she'd be fun to draw because she strikes me as a real equivocator. Edwards, you know, obviously, there's the jokes about the $400-dollar haircuts, but...
Mr. BABIN: Handsome people are difficult to draw.
Ms. REID: Yeah, exactly.
YDSTIE: Mm hmm.
Mr. BABIN: And I would like to add that the ultimate political cartoonist's dilemma is when he or she walks in to the voting booth and has to decide on whether - who they prefer to run the country or who is best for their personal career.
YDSTIE: Rex Babin, who draws cartoons for the Sacramento Bee; and Mikhaela Reid, who draws for a lot of alternative weeklies. Thanks so much, it's been a lot of fun.
Mr. BABIN: All right. Thank you very much.
Ms. REID: Thank you.
YDSTIE: You can see some cartoons from the exhibit at npr.org.
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