By Alexander Hoffman
For the longest time, the political paradigm in America has been based along a Left-Right spectrum with liberals on the left, who traditionally favor less government involvement in social matters, but desire more involvement in the fiscal realm and conservatives on the right, who favor less government in economic matters, but support government enforcement of “family values.” This simplistic spectrum left little room for libertarians, who favor less government involvement in both social and fiscal matters. However, the rise in popularity of Texas Congressman Ron Paul and the Tea Party Movement has changed that dichotomy in recent years.
Since then, libertarians have found a small place in the political discussion, but in the world of political cartoons, cartoonists for the most part still fall into the categories of liberal or conservative. There are exceptions such as Peter Bagge and the now defunct duo of Cox and Forkum, who are well known for holding a libertarian perspective, but for the most part, audiences (and syndicates) expect cartoons to be from either a left wing or right wing perspective. When they’re not, audiences and editors get confused. For example, while cartooning for UCLA’s Daily Bruin, I was usually pegged as a conservative cartoonist, because I routinely drew cartoons with polar opposite viewpoints from the paper’s liberal editorial board. I once drew a cartoon in support of gay marriage and I received several angry emails from readers criticizing me for being anti-gay marriage, simply based on their perception of me from my other cartoons on other unrelated issues. Despite this, being hard to pin down has its benefits as well, such as crossover appeal, which can help reach wider audiences. When I post my cartoons online, I find liberal blogs latch on my cartoons attacking the religious right and conservative blogs praise my cartoons that attack government spending.
Still, there are also many topics libertarians focus on that aren’t often drawn about by liberal and conservative cartoonists, such as the war on drugs, fiat currency and the duopoly of America’s two-party system. I’ve found that the most popular cartoons I’ve done tend to be ones expressing criticism no one else is making. For example, the debate over whether insurance providers and employers should be mandated to provide free birth control has dominated the headlines in the United States. While some liberal cartoonists have likened any opposition to the mandate as an attack on women, some conservatives have resorted to shaming the use of birth control entirely. I found both sides missed the mark in arguing about the merits of birth control instead of focusing on whether the government should be even involved in making such personal choices for individuals or financial choices for insurance companies and employers.
If there’s one benefit to not fitting into the stereotypical Left-Right spectrum, it’s that you are not beholden to any one political party, which is very freeing. Many of the liberal cartoonists who once attacked Bush’s Patriot Act, are silent on Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act. Similarly, conservative cartoonists who ignored Bush’s Medicare expansion and out of control spending are more than happy to point out the problems with Obamacare and Obama’s debt. While I’m not saying editorial cartoonists have to become free market policy wonks, there are benefits in knowing what you believe and sticking to your guns no matter who’s in office.