Foreword by Tom Tomorrow
In November of 1992, American voters decided to exchange a moderate, pro-business Republican president for a moderate, pro-business Democratic President -- an event which inexplicably led many to believe that social change of a magnitude not seen since the days of the French Revolution was at hand. Conservatives were aghast, certain that the election of Bill Clinton presaged the end of civilization as they knew it, and the volume of mail I received from such readers increased exponentially -- as if this segment of my audience felt that the only way to check the tidal wave of liberalism headed their way was to quickly send letters of complaint about a small, weekly cartoon whose political impact might accurately be described as, well, nonexistent. Many on the left/liberal side of the spectrum, meanwhile, were convinced that all of America's problems had been solved in one bold stroke, and that social commentators such as myself might as well start looking for other work. "What are you going to do cartoons about *now*?" I was repeatedly asked by those who had mistaken campaign promises for reality, forgetting that basic law of semiotics -- *the map is not the territory.*
As I write these words, it's been a little over a year and a half since that election. There have been about-faces and outright betrayals by Clinton on NAFTA, the environment, Lani Guinier, gays in the military, Haitian refugees, China's MFN status -- and on and on. His idea of heal th care reform has been to propose a hopelessly complex plan of "managed competition," the sole advantage of which seems to be that it would leave major insurance companies firmly in control of the system. To my mind, the only question here is whether Clinton is a weenie who just wasn't *able* to stand up to the nation's entrenched corporate interests, or if he was bought and paid for so long ago that he never had any *intention* of standing up to those interests. It will probably come as no surprise to my readers that I tend to suspect the latter.
Despite the nightly Punch-and-Judy sparring matches between Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsely and their ilk, I believe the real debate in this country has little to dowith either of the simplistic extremes represented by, on the one hand, rabid conservatives who despise Clinton despite the fact that he kowtows almost completely to their economic agenda, and, on the other, oblivious liberals who seem utterly disinterested in anything Clinton actually *does* as long as he continues to mouth those vague platitudes about hope and change which leave them feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Which is not to deny that real and heartfelt differences exist between the two sides, particularly on such hot-button social issues as abortion or gay rights, but rather to argue that such differences often serve to distract attention from the real, underlying debate -- which is and always will be between the wealthy and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. It has nothing to do with right or left, conservative or liberal; it has everything to do with up or down, ruling or working class. If you doubt this, consider that it is the official policy of the Federal Reserve -- and therefore, of the United States Government -- to maintain an unemployment rate of at least eight million Americans. Let me repeat that: *It is the official policy of the United States Government to maintain an unemployment rate of at least eight million Americans.*
This may be the single most important point necessary to an understanding of the American political system, and it isn't some sort of radical leftist wacko social analysis taken from a xeroxed leaflet handed out at a Save the Whales rally -- it's a fact which is discussed quite openly in the business pages of the mainstream media whenever the Fed deems it necessary to raise interest rates. The New York Times, for instance, recently explained matter of factly that as unemployment falls near the "danger mark" of only eight million jobless, rates are raised "to discourage borrowing and spending ... (forcing) business activity, and the economy, to slow down. Fewer jobs are created and unemployment rises." In other words, the laws of supply and demand dictate that as unemployment falls, the cost of labor increases, a situation which, according to conventional economic wisdom, leads inexorably to inflation -- since, of course, it's a given that corporations must in turn raise their prices in order to maintain their obscene profit margins. They've got to be able to pay those ten gazillion dollar bonuses to their CEOs, after all.
And if you agree with me that the system is fucked up, but believe that Clinton's people are doing all they can to change it, let me bring to your attention the manner in which Presidential economic adviser Laura Tyson recently attempted to reassure inflation-wary investors -- by noting that "wage growth has been stagnant over the past year," and that "it is likely that wages will begin to drift upward only gradually." Which *has* to strike anyone who accepts the conventional liberal vs. conservative paradigm as a damned peculiar thing for a Democratic administration to be crowing about. But come on ... how much change did you honestly expect from a President whose cabinet contains more millionaires than that of his Republican predecessor, and whose earliest appointments included such noted radical reformers as Lloyd Bentsen and Ron Brown? Call me cynical if you will, but remember Ambrose Bierce's definition of a cynic: "A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be."
And do me one favor if you ever meet me: no matter who's in the White House, please don't ask me what I'm going to do cartoons about *now* ...
A few notes about this book: the preceeding musings notwithstanding, politics are not the sole focus of my work, as I hope the following pages will make clear. Most of these cartoons have been culled from my weekly self-syndicated strip, This Modern World, but there are some rarities here as well, such as the story of our opinionated penguin's trip to Paris (not to mention his breakfast with a certain well-known pinhead ...)
As always, many thanks are due many people ( and a few organizations). They include (in no particular order): Keith Kahla, Bill Griffith, Tom Erikson, J.R. Swanson, Steve Rhodes, Gary Frank, Randy Mills, Kimberly Burns,Dave Eggers, Jello Biafra, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and Project Censored ... as well as others I'm sure I'm forgetting. I'd also like to thank the friends who helped out during a year that had some rough patches; and perhaps most importantly, I want to express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to all the editors who choose to run my cartoons in their newspapers each week. Without them, I would be relegated to the status of a tree falling in an empty forest, and this book would most certainly not exist.