Cartoon: Waving The Magic Congress Wand


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This was originally drawn in February, but I never posted this cartoon outside of Patreon until today. Back in February, Covid took over, well, everything, and it never seemed the right time to post it.

And I just wasn’t satisfied with the cartoon.

This month I went back to it and made a number of changes. I changed it to be about someone running for Congress, instead of running for President, because this is a cartoon about the generic tenor of political campaigns in the USA, and that doesn’t feel relevant to Donald Trump. (Of course, Trump does promise many things he can’t and won’t deliver on – but it’s almost hard to notice those promises, coming as they do as part of an ongoing, oceanic torrent of lies).

I improved the art, adding in balloons and confetti to the end, and making small changes to a few other panels. The biggest improvement, though, was asking Frank Young to do the colors, giving it a treatment that I didn’t feel I had time to do myself. Frank, as usual, did a great job.

Here’s what the cartoon looked like back in February – I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s enormously improved. (You can visit the original post to see it in a larger size.)


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has thirteen panels. Each of the panels shows a man standing at a podium, speaking to a crowd (the crowd isn’t in every panel). The man has very carefully coiffed hair and is wearing a suit and tie. Let’s call him “the politician.”

PANEL 1

In the foreground, we can see a large crowd from the back; we see the backs of their heads, and their arms waving in the air. They’re facing a man on stage, who is waving a hand and speaking to them from behind a podium.

POLITICIAN: When you elect me to Congress, I’ll enact big, big changes!

PANEL 2

A closer shot of the politician shrugging.

POLITICIAN: That’s if our party controls congress. Because if not, I literally can’t do anything.

PANEL 3

The politician rubs his chin and looks upward a bit, thoughtfully.

POLITICIAN: But if we’re in control, I’ll ask my allies to bring my plan into committee. And if I’m lucky, the committee will only rewrite it a little!

PANEL 4

This panel is an extreme close up of the politician – so close that his ears aren’t even in panel. In the five panels that follow, the “camera” will gradually zoom out, away from the politician, until he’s a tiny full-figure.

POLITICIAN: Actually, since big policy changes are complex, many committees will rewrite parts of my plan!

PANEL 5

POLITICIAN: And then the CBO scores it, which means more rewriting.

PANEL 6

POLITICIAN: And more rewrites, and more, until something that only slightly resembles my plan passes Congress!

PANEL 7

POLITICIAN: And that’s only if I’m lucky!

PANEL 8

POLITICIAN: Even then, it could still be vetoed. Or struck down in court.

PANEL 9

The “zoom out” is now complete; the politician is a tiny figure, no longer using a lot of energy to speak, raising one hand in a “let me explain this” gesture.

POLITICIAN: Because even if I’m elected, that won’t give me the power to just make laws happen.

PANEL 10

A close up of the politician, who is now grinning big and waving his arms as he yells.

POLITICIAN: So let’s hear it for big big changes I can’t promise!

PANEL 11

A shot from behind the politician, so we see the back of his head, and the crowd looking at him. The crowd is totally silent and is glaring at him; they look angry.

PANEL 12

A profile shot of the politician, looking nervous; cartoon beads of sweat are flying off his face, and a sound effect says “gulp.”

PANEL 13

A front shot of the politician, grinning and spreading his arms in the air as he talks loudly, one hand making a thumbs up sign. He is surrounded by balloons and confetti falling through the air. In the foreground, we can see members of the crowd grinning and waving their hands.

POLITICIAN: What I meant to say was, Once I’m elected, I’ll wave my magical Congress wand and my ideas will become law like POOF!

VARIOUS PEOPLE IN THE CROWD: Yay! What leadership! Huzzah!

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29 Responses to Cartoon: Waving The Magic Congress Wand

  1. 1
    Corso says:

    I like this one. Particularly the over-the-shoulders view of the crowd. I think this’ll end up being evergreen, and could be trotted out in almost any election cycle, for almost any democracy, because the basics are almost universal: The mendacity of politicians, the unwillingness of voters to hear the truth, and that systems that require broad-base consensus for legislation will tend to produce really milquetoast results.

  2. 2
    Görkem says:

    @Corso: While this is true to some extent, not all individual Parliamentarians are as hapless as individual members of Congress.

    For starters, in countries with smaller legislatures, it’s not as easy for a single parliamentarian’s ideas to be subsumed into the party. For example, the New Zealand parliament has 120 seats – much closer to the global median for unicameral/lower houses than the USA. Until the recent election, the ruling coalition’s largest party had 46 seats, so any given legislator made up about 2% of that party’s parliamentary strength and thus has on average a 2% share in shaping the legislative agenda. 2% is of course not much, and realistically that share is not spread evenly among members. But it is still a sharp contrast that to the USA, where the leading party has 232 seats in Congress, so any given legislator has only 0.4% of the legisltive power, substantially less than their NZ equivalent.

    Of course it is true that politicians on the stump will almost exaggerate whatever power they have – even if it substantive they will try to make it seem more substantive than it is. The question is, is that necessarily a bad thing? For many people, electing a parliamentary representative is literally the only vote they have – should we be encouraging them to think their vote matters less than they think it does? Even if they are wrong, it seems like a harmless fallacy. Excess of zeal when voting is not exactly harmful.

  3. 3
    Corso says:

    It’s an interesting point. Canada has 330~ MPs, with only 10% of America’s population. There’s two ways of looking at that…. We could look at it like we’re better represented, because we have more MPs per capita than Americans, but on the other hand, if we halved that number it might be easier to build consensus and get more ambitious things done.

  4. 4
    Görkem says:

    The “number of people per representative” metric throws up a whole other set of statistics, but it is not actually relevant to what I was discussing. The power of an individual parliamentarian in a 100 or 200 or 500 member legislature is the same regardless of whether that parliamentarian represents 20,000 or 500,000 people.

  5. 5
    LTL FTC says:

    In Amp iconography, the fact that a pale white guy with perfect hair is saying this means that his is the “wrong” answer. The darker-hued audience seems to hate his candor. What is with the reversal?

    The future Senator Chad Goodhair is correct, but that his correctness is disappointing to anyone who wants big changes. I suspect Amp agrees. The people demand a wand and they never get one because only dictators have anything close to a wand.

    Also, doesn’t this apply more to legislators with an actual platform, like Democrats? If a WOC was your speaker, wouldn’t her correctness – by dint of tint per custom – do a better job making your point?

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    In Amp iconography, the fact that a pale white guy with perfect hair is saying this means that his is the “wrong” answer.

    And yet I agree with everything he says in this cartoon. Even the last panel, where he’s obviously lying, I’m not sure he’s doing the wrong thing; in our current situation, vastly exaggerating what you’ll be able to accomplish as an elected official may be a necessary evil in order to get elected, and if that is necessary than I don’t want only people I disagree with to do it.

  7. 7
    LTL FTC says:

    Then what is the significance of the race flip? I’m not going to flip back through years of cartoons, but it seems like a pretty solid rule that characters who look like that exist to be corrected, mocked or bullheadedly unable to comprehend the right answer. So there has to be a reason to have a white preppy guy tell an uncomfortable truth to a group of POC who are too blissfully ignorant to hear him. Right?

  8. 8
    nobody.really says:

    So there has to be a reason to have a white preppy guy tell an uncomfortable truth to a group of POC who are too blissfully ignorant to hear him. Right?

    Thanks for sharing this thought.

    I read “white preppy guy” as a stand-in for generic politician. And I read the crowd as a stand-in for, well, a generic crowd. I read the cartoon to say that we, the public, have unrealistic expectations of politicians–and politicians find that they must pander to those expectations. The point is not to ridicule the politician as to emphasize the no-win situation that we place them in. As Senator Barney Frank remarked, “[E]veryone hates Washington. But let me tell you something: The voters are no picnic either.”

    Now, why would Amp depict a crowd of women and people of color for this cartoon? Maybe because … crowds contain women and people of color? And LTL FTC may be correct in the speculation that Amp has a pattern in his use of gender and race. But I’d want to see the data. Studies suggest that, when we have become accustomed to seeing white men as the norm, we come to regard almost ANY depiction of other people as noteworthy, and this availability bias skews our estimation of the number of women and people of color in a crowd. In short, we have reason to distrust our gut instincts on this question.

  9. 9
    Corso says:

    @8

    And LTL FTC may be correct in the speculation that Amp has a pattern in his use of gender and race. But I’d want to see the data.

    If I compiled the data for the last 100 comics, would that constitute enough data? I find myself with a ridiculous overabundance of time during lockdown, and it would give me an excuse to go back through the portfolio. I have the impression that LTL is *probably* right, but we could see.

  10. 10
    LTL FTC says:

    Have at it, Corso.

    PS wasn’t there an occasion over the last couple of years in which Amp changed the race or gender of the protagonist to fit his pattern after complaints in the comments?

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    I suspect LTL is more-or-less correct.

    There’s a huge number of cartoons in which I’m satirizing or trashing right-wing views, and I generally have those people be white and usually male, b/c in real life most Republicans are white and most people of color are not Republicans. (A similar thing is true for men and women). So those roles aren’t distributed randomly; they’re virtually all being “cast’ as white men.

    But I also really don’t want to create a fictional world in which it’s normal to have only white people be part of the world. So a lot of the parts that aren’t GOP spokesmen are “cast” as non-male, non-white or both.

    Regarding this cartoon, I don’t see the crowd as “group of POC”; they’re certainly a diverse crowd, but there are some obviously white people in the crowd.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    “PS wasn’t there an occasion over the last couple of years in which Amp changed the race or gender of the protagonist to fit his pattern after complaints in the comments?”

    I don’t remember this offhand, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  13. 13
    Görkem says:

    Although not all Republican politicians and voters are white men (although the majority are), the Republican party governs in the interests of white men – so a white man not only represents a depiction of the typical Republican politician, he also represents, as it were, the “spirit” of the Republican party.

  14. 14
    Ben David says:

    The large number of representatives in the US Congress is kinda by design – as part of the original intent to weaken the Federal government in favor of the States.

    Similarly, the original concept was for Senators to be sent to Washington by each State government. Direct election of Senators came later, by amendment.

    Washington was not intended to be as powerful as it has become.

  15. 15
    LTL FTC says:

    Fun fact: Democrats are 60% white:
    https://news.gallup.com/poll/160373/democrats-racially-diverse-republicans-mostly-white.aspx

    And people wildly overstate the percentage of Democrats who are black or LGBT:
    https://www.vox.com/2016/4/7/11380224/ahler-sood-misperception

    That doesn’t contradict the notion that one party is very very straight and white and one less so, just food for thought.

  16. 16
    Görkem says:

    @LTF: 72% of the US population is white. Democrats are less likely to be white than the average American.

  17. 17
    LTL FTC says:

    Gorkem: that is also true. There is no conflict.

    I just see something about Amp’s POC protagonists: they fill a role – exasperated progressive trying to reason with unreason, picturing themselves as the only person in the room who sees the emperor has no clothes – that, in real life, is exceedingly common among white men. Majority of white men? No. But a lot. And it’s precisely those sheer numbers that mean that it’s no accident that Amp almost never portrays them.

    There’s a false aura of caution among some really progressive straight white men. They draw attention to how small they make themselves to make room for others, but in doing so just draw more attention to themselves and their beliefs. I don’t think Amp is guilty of this, but it raises questions about when people use POC characters to act out their politics as a way to render the personal beliefs of white people sort of quasi POC-approved.

  18. 18
    Mookie says:

    Good working example belowthread of the hyperbolic fits the reactionary status quo works itself up to upon being confronted with visual evidence of proportionate representation, sort of like how when the majority male participants of a group discussion, when polled after, have been known to exaggerate the extent to which the minority female participants were “allowed” to speak. Even deviation from catering to and privileging the invisible default is to be regarded with suspicion, evidence of an “agenda.”

    Parse the images, really, if this means so much to you. Count up the non-white, non-male figures, do a diagram, and show your work. Be expected to defend your assumptions. Surely that is a more productive use of time than this cowardly, aggrieved victimhood full of insinuation and bad faith theory about other people’s true motives but lacking even an ounce of substantive analysis. What, really, do ludicrous claims like one’s host “never portray[ing]” some bog standard identity—in fact, represented at least once in every strip on the current front page—accomplish, beyond making the speaker seem unreasonable and eager to voice obvious and therefore pointless lies?

  19. 19
    Mookie says:

    I don’t think Amp is guilty of this, but it raises questions about when people use POC characters to act out their politics as a way to render the personal beliefs of white people sort of quasi POC-approved.

    Setting aside the emboldened clause, which contradicts the rest of your commentary here, explain why you think any “personal beliefs” (in reality, observations of known reality) Amp is expressing are unique to white people, and why people of color should be immune to a rather pedestrian understanding of the US electoral and legislation processes. I see nothing here that is ethnically or racially essentialist, so, again, show your work.

    You rather dramatically shifted goalposts in your later comments here. What do “progressive POC protagonists,” exasperated or otherwise, have to do with this strip? There’s a white male politician talking out both sides of his mouth about a political reality and an audience—containing multitudes beyond white men but by no means excluding them—expressing anger at an admission of that reality and then celebrating a more optimistic, unrealistic rationalization of that same. Where is the progressive here? Which progressive beliefs are being serviced by Amp’s perfidious employment of, gulp, the non-white totem? Moreover, where is the secondary evidence that ascribing one’s favored positions to fictional poc cyphers makes those positions immune to analysis and critique?

    The only reaction poc are afforded here is one of general, universal, shared resentment/disgust followed by similarly generalized adulation. What about that is suspect or distasteful to you? Do you find it incredible or implausible that Americans of color harbor generic attitudes? Understand and dislike how government operates?

    I must say, I find the insinuation that Amp is giving too much credit to likeminded people who happen not to be white the only truly condescending thing to be found in this post. The notion that a poor white liberal man can only bring to bear a personal belief by first dishonestly ascribing it a hivemind of color seems violently divorced from reality in a world that generally casts aspersions and/or suspicions on the intelligence, acumen, and motivations of people of color as political actors and as a slice of the electorate.

  20. 20
    Mookie says:

    Beyond the confines of your own imagination, is there some special power granted to people of color that Amp as a white man lacks? What’s the theory behind this paranoia?

  21. 21
    Ampersand says:

    Surely that is a more productive use of time than this cowardly, aggrieved victimhood full of insinuation and bad faith theory about other people’s true motives…

    Mookie, you’re making good points, and of course I truly appreciate your defending my work. :-)

    But please dial down the tone a couple of notches. Sincere thanks!

  22. 22
    Görkem says:

    Honestly the script does not really flatter the crowd – their anger at the speaker initially is not admirable (since he is being honest with them, and doesn’t deserve anger because of it), nor is their adulation of him (since they prefer his comforting lies to the uncomfortable truth). So even if the crowd is supposed to represent PoC as a group (which it isn’t, but let’s say) it is not particularly flattering.

    A lot of Amp’s cartoons have a pretty strong moral dimension that can be reductively, but not completely inaccurately, attached to a “good guys vs bad guys” narrative. But this isn’t one of them. Neither the politician nor the crowd have the moral high ground here. The politician abandons honesty in pursuit of popularity, which is lame, but the crowd punishes him for honesty and enables him for his pretty transparent lies, which is also lame. The real problem is the incentive system that rewards politicians for making big promises they can’t fulfil, and the system is not depicted. I suppose one could argue that an individual politician might be seen as a stand-in for this system but that doesn’t seem to be the case here – in fact the politician is the voice by which the system is criticised (at least initially, although he doesn’t have the stomach to follow through his criticism – at least he tried. The crowd doesn’t even try).

    So, overall, even if you did want to criticise Amp for a morally reductive approach to PoC/white male political dialogues in his cartoons, you chose probably the worst cartoon to do so.

  23. 23
    Görkem says:

    “Mookie, you’re making good points, and of course I truly appreciate your defending my work. :-) But please dial down the tone a couple of notches”

    To quote Barry Goldwater, who I am sure would despise being quoted in this context, ‘Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue’

  24. 24
    Petar says:

    ‘Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue’

    Great rule of thumb. Now if you only had one that defined ‘justice’, we’d be all set.

    Until then, I’ll just stick with “moderation is no virtue”.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    ‘Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue’

    Pun intended?

    I’ll just stick with “moderation is no virtue”.

    Again, pun intended? :-p

  26. 26
    Petar says:

    I was aware of the double meaning, but I wish it were not there. It distracts from my point, which is that nearly everyone who acts justifies his actions, and thus saying ‘Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.’ is about the same as saying ‘No mercy!’

    As for forum moderation, it’s a necessary evil, thus obviously no virtue.

    What is common for both is that they are simply a way to seek balance, which never exists unless there’s more than one relevant motivation/force, capital optional.

    Damn it, in many languages, there is a word that can mean a force, as in Dynamics, a motivation, as in a reason to act, and a power, as the Powers that Be. Not in English, to my knowledge. So much for puns. Fair weather friends.

    —-

    Influence?

  27. 27
    Corso says:

    @25

    I feel like that went directly over my head. I know it wasn’t directed at me, but I’m intrigued… What pun?

  28. 28
    Petar says:

    I thought I made it clear in the subsequent post.

    Moderation, as in “use in moderation”, and moderation, as in “forum moderation”.

  29. 29
    Corso says:

    D’oh. Yes. Sorry.

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