Campaign Tales: The Pen is Mightier Than Politics


By Sean Brenner

Published Oct 1, 2008 7:00 AM

Powerful pieces from one of the world's largest political cartoon collections.

As long as there have been campaigns, there have been cartoonists, whose sharp wit and pointed images keep the candidates honest and the voters informed. Bruin Michael Kahn '70 has collected one of the world's largest political cartoon collections. Here are some of his most notable pieces.

During his undergraduate days, the first order of business each morning for Kahn was grabbing the Los Angeles Times. The front page and the Dodgers scores could wait: Kahn turned first to that day's political cartoon by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad.

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"His cartoons often depicted [former L.A.] Mayor [Sam] Yorty doing ridiculous things," says Kahn, now the senior partner at a San Francisco law firm. "My roommates and I would put the cartoons up on the refrigerator — they brought great life to our apartment."

Those drawings sparked a passion that led Kahn to amass one of the world's largest political cartoon collections, a cache that exceeds 25,000. "What I love about them, more than anything else, is that they capture truth in such a wonderful way," he explains. "They're fun and amusing, but they tell [the] truth about really important things."

Herewith, a sampling of influential images from Kahn's archive, and his thoughts on why each struck a chord.

"The only five votes that count"
David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2000
"For those who felt their votes didn't count, the only votes that did were the five Supreme Court votes that made Bush president. The clear impression in this image is not that the five justices' decision was just, but that it was one they were happy and satisfied with."

"Come on in"
Clarence D. Batchelor, New York Daily News, 1936
"The woman with the skeleton head represents that war is such a seductive thing, but with horrible results. Clearly, people who were anti-war would see this and be struck by its truth and power, and they knew World War II was going to have a horrible result. This one won a Pulitzer Prize."

"Nixon's web"
Paul Conrad, Los Angeles Times, 1973
"Conrad's mocking of Mayor Yorty was really influential at the time. Then he took up Nixon — and by the time of Watergate, Conrad had been added to Nixon's enemies list, something he said he was very proud of. One of the big questions during Watergate was: How much did Nixon know? The beauty of this cartoon is that it answers the question in a very graphic and very stark way — that it was Nixon's web. This cartoon shows the names of all of the Watergate conspirators interlaced in that web."

"Tattooed Man"
Bernard Gillam, Puck, 1884
"This is thought to be one of the two or three most famous political cartoons ever done. James Blaine, who was running for president against Grover Cleveland, is depicted covered in tattoos, all representing scandals he had been involved in. It was said that this image was so influential that it changed the vote in New York City, and resulted in Cleveland beating Blaine by a small margin."