2011: A Year in Political Cartoons

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A look back at the news and events of 2011 with Steve Benson, political cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, and nationally syndicated cartoonist Brian Fairrington.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Political cartoonists had plenty to work with in 2011. They could have gone through barrels of ink drawing Arizona's issues alone. Tonight, we take a look at some of the caustic and comical creations of Steve Benson, political cartoonist for "The Arizona Republic." And Brian Fairrington, a nationally syndicated political cartoonist who, like Benson, makes his home in the east valley. Gentlemen, it's that time of year again, good to see you back.

>> Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: Thiis year: tough? Easy? Rough sledding, easy sledding? What was it like for the political cartoonist?

Steve Benson: I thought it was jam-packed. We've had some Tragedies and comedies and as we're gearing up for 2012, I mean, the drumbeat is really -- I think there's an intensity to this year that's going to lead us into a barroom brawl of monumental proportions of 2012.

Ted Simons: With it an election year, does it look like something special because, obviously this year there are a lot of things going on.

Brian Fakrrington: Oh, absolutely, with the precursor to the tea party and occupy Wall Street, people are angry and that's boiling over and it will pour over to the election as well.

Ted Simons: You mentioned you're angry and it's boiling over: Are you seeing your fellow cartoonists doing stuff that maybe you wouldn't have done --

Brian Fairrington: I know a handful of angry liberals but they're that way no matter what.

Steve Benson: I think -- You always get angry when you see them.

Brian Fairrington: I think it's going to be a big year politically. I think that there's going to be so many issues and so many subissues, I think our plates will be very full.

Ted Simons: What do you think about that? The debate has gotten so caustic. The vitriol is hip deep. Have you seen the cartoonists being a little meaner, a little nastier?

Steve Benson: I don't see the cartoonists being any meaner. What I see meaner is the environment. The voters, the response we get. To me, it's -- it's -- there's a level of anger that I have not seen in a long time. And I just think, ok. I'll go on the record, you know, Obama is guilty of governing all black. I really do think there's a insidious undercurrent of racism among the far right and I've never seen this kind of vitriol before.

Brian Fairrington I think there is certainly a little bit of that. No question there's a little bit of that. But I think it's across the board, people angry and disgruntled with housing and the economy and jobs. And, you know -- you know, unless it improves or shows any numbers improving, Obama probably, you know, joins Jimmy Carter in the fishing boat.

Steve Benson: I don't think so.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the cartoons and back and forth here, do you have to stop -- forth here, do you ever have to stop yourself because you're being too mean here?

Brian Fairrington: I don't. I don't have the benefit of having an editor. I send it out to the papers and they run it.

Steve Benson: I can tell you don't have an editor.

Ted Simons: Do you find yourself saying, jeez this was rough for me?

Steve Benson: I talking to my editor Phil Bowens yesterday in the halland he said to me: Steve, you make me pull my hair out but you're the most enjoy - I enjoy working with you more than anyone else. Well Thanks Phil. The feeling I wish was mutual. But he says I understand your turf. You're Trying to protect it. I understand you're trying to invade it. But there's a creative tension, there's isometric and that push-back is good.

Ted Simons: You don't have any of that push-back?

Brian Fairrington: The syndicate takes the cartoons send them out to the editors and they make the decisions and I get emails from subscribers that say they think I'm conservative and if it wasn't conservative enough, wanted more, and vice versa. They can never be happy.

Ted Simons: Let's get to the cartoons gent;emen, there's a lot to get to. A story very early in the year, but again, this is one of those topics, it has to be hard to write and draw regarding the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

Steve Benson: Remember, that the moment it was announced, you know, she had been shot on a Saturday at a meet and greet, at a supermarket in Tucson, unfortunately, it was early reported she had been killed and that just stunned us all and paralyzed us in fear and sadness and I went down to the paper and drew for that. And it was amazing to see Gabrielle Giffords over time do steadily step by step better and the outpouring of support and sympathy for her and the other victims overwhelmed me. So.

Ted Simons: A positive one there but get into controversy with the next one. Not only because of the statement above, but the grin. Can you use that in a cartoon that face and that grin?

Steve Benson: This was a booking photo.

Ed Simons: Right.

Steve Benson: And the -- he had that eerie monstrous stare. The fact that he had these mega magazines, the only reason he was stopped by one who knocked his arm, because he was reloading and this is what you get when you have unending mags with -- MAGs with the rounds in there and he was spraying the place.

Ted Simons: Before we get to your cartoon, regarding the gun control and this particular issue, but in general, the concept of gun control, could you have used that mugshot?

Brian Fairrington: Sure, sure, absolutely, I think -- I think, to Steve's point, however, I think -- I think the issue that came afterwards was gun control in general. I think you need to distinguish between people who have these crazy moose killers which don't serve a useful purpose in society or hunting or anything, to guns that law-abiding people can have and use and willing to go out and get a hunting license and do those things, I think the broad across the board call for all guns to be confiscated.

Steve Benson: No one is saying that.

Brian Fairrington: But the extremes are and that's why people --

Steve Benson: I don't hear extremists say all guns should be confiscated. The thing with Loughner was, there are huge loopholes in state law. He had been expelled from school, couldn't get into the army, he was a drug user and still got a weapon at a local gun shop.

Brian Fairrington: And there's a good argument to be made if you have to have a license to operate a motor vehicle, you should have a license to own a gun, not just to go hunting. I think that would be a valid point.

Ted Simons: You have the point made with guns and cars and pencils and spoons and such.

Brian Fairrington: I got a reaction from Oprah fans, that I was racist, I picked on Oprah because she was heavy set.

Ted Simons: Is she burping there.

Brian Fairrington: She's burping.

Ted Simons: And then -- raising the ceiling?

Steve Benson: She showed up unexpectedly to vote on the raising the debt ceiling, hence, title for this cartoon and it was such an inspirational moment to see her there struggling and happy to be there and everyone just rooting for her.

Brian Fairrington: She's displayed immense courage and become a huge role model.

Ted Simons: Let's get on to some other. I think a story that was big at the time but disappeared rapidly was the Osama Bin Laden and some forget it's happened and you've got it as a big story.

Steve Benson: Yeah, he has made some amazing three-point shots when it comes to foreign policy, you can't deny -- he's taken out Osama Bin Laden and helped take out Moammar Gadhafi and the English speaking member of the terrorist organization in the propaganda arm and these have required a lot of intense special forces and, you know, intrusions as well as background intelligence, it's an amazing thing he's done but you would never know it from the Obama haters out there. Mr., I look like a conservative Wall Street banker.

Brian Fairrington: To pick up on Steve's point, that three-point shot doesn't happen by one guy. It's a team effort and Obama claiming he has 100% to do with the -- with the efforts of the war, bush did put in place a lot of the mechanisms to get those things to pay off. He pulled the trigger and made the decision, fair enough, but to take all of the credit.

Steve Benson: Well, it happened on his watch, he gets the credit.

Ted Simons: Let's keep it moving. Libya as a major story of the year and you've got Europe asleep at the --

Brian Fairrington: Every time we good into a foreign conflict, we do it almost by ourselves, no foreign help and yet, turn around comes around as we're seeing now with Europe, and the hand-out wanting our assistance. We do a lot of things and yet they're not willing to help out --

Steve Benson: Time out. Time out. Who helped us get Gadhafi, it was a predator drone combined with a French fighter jet.

Brian Fairrington: But a lot of states sat it out. When it comes to -- because of economics, needs a handout, we're the one they come to.

Ted Simons: Speaking of economics, The reason Libya is involved in our sights in the first place.

Steve Benson: The argument against this cartoon from some of the critics was we don't get much of our oil from Libya, but the trouble is Libya was a destabilizing force in the middle east and if it wasn't for the fact it was, we would be more confident about our continuing stream of the revenue and oil coming out of the middle east. In a way,indirectly he held us hostage.

Ted Simons: And of course that all deals with the economy. And what you're seeing with the economy is what everyone is seeing with the economy.

Steve Benson: Yes, but The saving grace for Obama in 2012 will not be an economic turnaround. At most, we've got a moderate growth projection of 2%. It's going to be dwarfed on the Republican ticket. I mean, every one of us thought that the economy was going to kill Obama, the hopes for 2012. No. Never interfere with your opponent when they're committing collective suicide and that's happening on the right.

Ted Simons: But it sounds like you think that's what is happening with the president.

Brian Fairrington: Well, I think, you know, he needs to be -- he's put out a lot of rhetoric, about jobs, jobs, jobs, and yet where are they.

Steve Benson: We had eight years of bush tax cuts.

Brian Fairrington: We're on Obama's watch now, where are the jobs?

Steve Benson: The unemployment rate went down by .4 of 1% in one single month from 9.0 to 8.6.

Ted Simons: But you have the economy taking a nosedive into that shopping cart.

Brian Fairrington: Well, you know, every year, merchants and the administration, they did it with the bush administration and Obama administration, get out and shop, buy, and that's going to save the economy. Looks like this year, Black Friday wasn't as strong as they thought.

Ted Simons: To emphasize the point, you've got use -

Brian Fairrington: We owe so much to China, it's scary. You know, I'm sure that mustache that Steve has was made in China.

Steve Benson: I'm sure that corkscrew haircut -- [Laughter]

Steve Benson: The grasses were made in China.

Brian Fairrington: We owe so much to the county store as they say.

Steve Benson: This is going to keep us from going into World War III, in my opinion, they depend on us for exports and we depend on them to service our debt and no one wants to fight each other. World peace is brought by codependent defecit spending countries.

Ted Simons: Can I say it's refreshing to have a couple of guests who go after each other by way of physical characteristics. You can tell your cartoonists because you go after haircuts and moustaches.

Steve Benson: Well at least my mustache is real, though. You glued that on.

Ted Simons: The supercommittee not so super.

Steve Benson: Oh my gosh, I mean, here we go. It reminds me of the headline of limon at 9/11, we're all Americans now. Well we're all socialists now. Regardless. Party, Republicans and Democrats don't want to cut into the entitlement because we'll lose our jobs. Superman dropped the ball but who is forcing the fumble? It is the constituents.

Brian Fairrington: They're collectively working together on doing squat, I think is what most people think. They're not accomplishing anything, they're butting heads and this started, ironically, with the Gingrich days, he's the one that shut down the government and invented modern gridlock as we know it, that's why I think he hasn't a prayer of getting elected. That's what both parties are doing. Both parties are fighting and not getting anything done and collectively people are sick and tired of it.

Steve Benson: I met Gingrich a few weeks ago at an editorial board meeting and we asked him, Mr. speaker, what is your greatest personal liability? He looked at us and he said, and I quote "too much substance."

Brian Fairrington: He could be the smartest guy in the room.

Ted Simons: With that, we'll move on to yet another presidential candidate. I guess he was, he's not anymore, for reasons you have shown. [Laughter]

Steve Benson: Please take a number. It's amazing this meltdown, but there's been meltdowns by all of the Republican candidates. They hit a plateau and they're the flavor of the week and then it's a disaster. I wanted to do a cartoon of the Cain train being driven by women and hes on the cow catcher --

Ted Simons: Brian had his own effort here.

Brian Fairrington: It's too easy to go cheap, so I did.

Ted Simons: Yeah, can you go too cheap?

Brian Fairrington: Well, you know. The guy, he was amusing, a cartoon character in politics, probably accomplished in business, but you saw him when he went to several editorial meetings, he looked like a deer in the headlights and he proved he couldn't play with the big boys. You have the two remaining who can complete a sentence.

Ted Simons: You've got him as flip-flopping.

Steve Benson: He's flop-flipping, whatever he's doing. He offered a bet to Mr. Perry for 10 grand to find it in his book where he was in favor of the individual mandate. Now he says he didn't offer him a bet. When you get politicians accusing another politician of flip-flopping too much --

Ted Simons: How far can you go regarding a politician and their religious beliefs, as you approached here?

Brian Fairrington: All one needs do is look back over recent history and see how the evangelicals -- I apologize to all the evangelicals out there. But they have singlehandedly destroyed the republican party.

Steve Benson: No, you don't.

Brian Fairrington: -- they've taken over the conservative movement and you have people on paper might be a candidate but don't have a chance -- lack of a better term -- hell, because they want to control it, they want to take religious tests despite what the constitution says.

Ted Simons: Did he swear on the program?

Brian Fairrington: I used it as a location.

Steve Benson: Location, location, location.

Ted Simons: Fair enough. Sarah Palin not running?

Steve Benson: Oh, my gosh, she made a fiscally sound judgment. I can make 400,000 dollars a year as president, or $12 million a year as a pseudo author, and we were just -- We were just -- we were just epiplectic over this. I spent the day in mourning.

Brian Fairrington: This is a good example of evangelicals, They'd rather put up her because she goes to the same Sunday school but she has enough air in her head to float a balloon.

Ted Simons: Will there be Eric holder cartoons next year, or will he be a memory?

Steve Benson: I don't think he's going to be in peace,as some republicans have grumpily threatened that they are going to do, but I think he may become think he may become a liability and may be asked to serve along the border bringing in hamburgers to the guards or something. But this is August, I don't know who came up with this. He says, yeah, people are responsible but we don't know who they are and we have 5,000 emails we've shared with the congress, but none of them are from me. He doesn't know who designed or implemented this, it wasn't his fault. Amazing, 2,000 guns that you cannot trace that we'll never get back. We find out that the DEA is laundering money for the cartels. Stings gone bad.

Ted Simons: Something that may still be a story next year. The occupy movement. Seems like it's got some strength, got some legs and a place to sit.

Brian Fairrington: I think it's the movement of the moment. The tea party was last year and the occupy Wall Street will be this year. The problem that they have in common, they don't have a clear end game. They talk in broad generalities. Corporations are bad, Wall Street is bad. But don't have a clear plan what to do. In this case, I saw more people protesting that were representing corporations by their logos and what they're eating and drinking and claiming they're bad, it's ironic.

Ted Simons: Do you see the same similarities?

Steve Benson I think both movements have to find a clarion, unified voice. It will come. What the tea party -- excuse me, the occupy is doing, it's resonating with the majority of Americans. Even though it's got disparate groups and disorganized and it's got Communists and libertarians and anarchists -- screaming in a mic in some park somewhere. But 63% Americans sympathize with them. And Obama knows that, so he's riding that train right now.

Ted Simons: The majority of voters in legislative district 18 decided enough is enough with Russell Pearce. That was a major story this year.

Steve Benson: From the sources we have where I work, we're talking about conservative Republican Mormaos in Mesa who ousted this guy. They were tired of the controversy and negative publicity, and they wanted a game change, that's all. But people complain about the cartoon saying your advocating violence, beheading Pearce. No, we're just tearing down the statues and cleaning up the square.

Ted Simons: That's the Iraqi reference there.

Brian Fairrington: That was my point, a lot of what would appear to be Pearce supporters, of the same faith and background, they were happy to see him go and a lot were east valley businesspeople who thought that S.B. 1070 was terrible for Arizona and were glad to see him get kicked out.

Ted Simons: Do you think the Cortes incident was the tipping point?

Steve Benson: I think it exposed, you know, Mr. Pearce and his brother and others as putting up just a puppet, a puppet who didn't really -- I thought she was trying her best, but we've heard, you know, sources say she knew she was being put up and went along and to her credit, said I'm not going to put up with this anymore.

Ted Simons: The Pearce and fiesta bowl cartoon is relatively self explanatory --

Steve Benson: Still looking for carbon copies of those canceled checks by the way.

Ted Simons: Good to know. Let's move on. Now we've got the governor; governor Ghadaffi? --

Steve Benson: You know, we had the people taking this power unto themselves to redistrict because they can't trust the politicians and the Republicans don't like the way it's going so they sumarily execute the director of the commission and has to put her back on. Yeah, she was acting like a dictator.

Ted Simons: Can you -- how far can you joke, domestic violence, a man allegedly punching or at least getting physical on the side of a roadway with a woman.

Steve Benson: It hasn't done him any good. I could have shown his former girlfriend, but that's insensitive. I wanted to show him as being an oaf. And where were the -- an OAF. This is outrageous.

Ted Simons: Speaking of outrageous: Charlie Sheen, I guess every cartoonist's joy?

Brian Fairrington: You know, every year, throughout the year, we get these stories that mean nothing but all of the media follows them and they're cotton candy and Charlie sheen was one of the stories at the beginning of the year and it's since turned. What's amazing about Charlie sheen is he sort of recovered. At the beginning of the year, everybody thought he was finished, he was dead. He has a new show coming on next year.

Steve Benson: I'm following this breathlessly every step of the way.

Brian Fairrington: Where is your pen at, pal?

Ted Simons: Penn State, and how far do you go. This is a child molestation story here.

Steve Benson: We got letters saying this is a tragedy, but, hey, the NITTANY Lions Eight and one - now Sandusky is going straight to trial.What is important here is the coverup, it began in 1998 and knew about it long before the shower slap.

Brian Fairrington: the underlying issue of this cartoon is how sacred college sports is, it's the moneymaker. Including this campus, the highest paid person on the campus is the coach. More than the governor or anybody else.

Steve Benson: I don't think it's a coincidence that Penn State doesn't have a logo on the side of its helmet. It's always been --

Ted Simons: The NITTANY lion.

Steve Benson: Now they're trying to whitewash it. The haven't had a logo for years. They don't want to be identified.

Ted Simons: I'm sorry, you were going so well. Bill Keene.

Brian Fairrington: He was a great guy, a giant of the industry, a valley resident, one of the first guys I met at my first cartoonist convention in 1996, he lived on the hill and we had a convention at a hotel there, and he came over with cartoonists and he was such a nice guy.

Steve Benson: I knew bill personally and was at his funeral service. His sons are grown and on the back lawn and Bill used to look out the window and draw them for inspiration. I said, I got his three sons together and said, would you go out and wrestle. He's a great standup comedian, he would say, it's an honor to be here, no,it's more than an honor, it's a damn inconvenience. Genuine bill Keene.

Ted Simons: Proof, though, you can be a cartoonist and just do heartwarming stuff and survive.

Steve Benson: He knew it.

Brian fairrington: Editors love this stuff. The tributes and holiday stuff. My syndicate is always saying doing more Christmas or Thanksgiving or Father's day.

Steve Benson: And they wanted him to stay safe in Australia. He was bound for the South Pacific and kept him in Australia to do caricatures.

Ted Simons: We're gonna close out with Steve jobs. Death brings out interesting cartoons, doesn't it?

Brian Fairrington: You want to pay tribute to them and Steve jobs, for example, was so monumental in changing the daily lives of people and communication with the cellphones and the iPhone and iPad and with the Mac and everything, he's going to be missed.

Ted Simons: When it comes to doing something with someone who is passed, you got to -- you have to touch all sides there, got to watch yourself in a variety of ways?

Steve Benson: I actually like doing -- When bill Keene died, I actually had an idea that Bill would have liked to show all the characters carrying his flower-laden casket and called it family service.

>> Oh, gees. [Laughter]

Steve Benson: Bill would have liked that. But speaking of death and that -- but speaking of death and that kind of thing and looking like you're still alive. I have a special gift for you, Ted. This is requested by your graphics arts department to go on a T-shirt.

Ted Simons: Who is that?

Steve Benson: That's ETHEL MERMAN. Or a combination of you and mayor Paul Johnson. I'm Ted Simons, you have a great evening. That's your signoff, isn't it?

Ted Simons: When I say you shouldn't have, I really shouldn't. Between the teeth and hair cut.

Steve Benson: You look so natural, when you sign off tonight, would you hold this up?

Ted Simons: I might, let me think about that.

Steve Benson: Ok.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. Good to have you here. Look for you again next year. Happy cartooning. That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You a great evening!

Steve Benson:Political Cartoonist for the Arizona Republic; Brian Fairrington:Nationally Syndicated Cartoonist;

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