To all the usual vices of editorial cartooning — cheap and half-baked premises; labeling of grossly obvious figures and concepts for the benefit of the irredeemably ignorant; unfunny gags; barnacle-encrusted clichés; a totally predictable point of view; glancing-at-best familiarity with issues in the news, among many others — Tom Toles adds at least two more: He can’t draw, and his conclusions are as bizarrely out of touch as the rightwing phantasmagoria parodied by Ward Sutton in The Onion’s “Kelly” cartoons.
Toles’ innocence of the basics of public life in America expresses itself in a bias toward the left, however, so he’s there on the Washington Post’s editorial page day in and day out. (Like all the most monstrous dictators, he never seems to take a vacation.)
Today, fearless Toles surveys the unfolding tragedy that began when a police officer, serving a department so heavily armed that it apparently has a landmine-proof MRAP, shot and killed an unarmed private citizen. And Toles’s deadeye aim falls directly on the real culprit of this story: an organization that lobbies for the right of private citizens to bear arms. After wowing the reader with his trenchant grasp of the situation, Toles pays it off with one of those Pat Oliphant-style bottom-right-corner buttons. “Film at 11,” the second punchline reads, showing how fully Toles keeps his finger right on the pulse of 1979.
There are a lot of unexamined assumptions encoded in this panel. In fact, there’s really nothing but unexamined assumptions. Obviously, that Toles seems to think the National Rifle Association has a damn thing to do with how much military surplus equipment a podunk police department receives is far more revealing of Toles’s own mind than of anything going on in these here United States.
But the most irritating thing might be the presumption that the John and Jane Q. Public shown giving deadpan commentary on the TV news somehow represent a vital American center, people who reject the NRA’s extremism. In fact, as Charlie Cooke noted yesterday, the Second Amendment right the NRA defends is extraordinarily popular in the United States. It’s not the NRA’s machinations that keep gun control advocates from hitting their targets; it’s that they are advocating something Americans don’t want and continue to vote against. Toles, and the Post more broadly, may not like that fact. But (unlike a lot of what appears in the Post) it’s a fact.
I’m sure there are other banalities to unpack in here, but that would require me to keep looking at the cartoon, and Toles’s draftsmanship is visually repulsive. I never thought I’d say this, but God help me, this man is not worthy to fill Herblock’s old seat.
It will, I hope, come as news to most readers that there are still print newspapers, and that they are still putting out editorial cartoons. Life’s funny that way: Travel agents still handle a third of all travel business in the United States. AOL still makes almost $150 million per quarter from dial-up customers. E-commerce still makes up less than 7 percent of U.S. retail sales. (We underestimate how long extinction takes.) And as I still get the paper delivered, I should point out that my carrier — an ancient lady who is up ere the sun every day, pushing a cart at a snail’s pace down my street — provides the absolute best and most reliable newspaper delivery I have ever experienced. So even in this long twilight, print papers have their pleasures. Tom Toles just isn’t one of them.