History is known to repeat itself, and in Texas politics, a pattern of scandals and corruption has been set within its highest office. But when did these unethical, corrupt political practices begin? They can be followed back to one couple that set a precedent for dirty politics in Texas. For two decades, from 1914 to 1932, Jim “Pa” Ferguson and his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson, took control of the Texas Capitol and used the governorship for personal gain, at any cost. As the Fergusons’ role as governor developed, so did the opposition to scandal and “Fergusonism,” becoming major issues in Texas politics for years thereafter.
For Jim “Pa” Ferguson, the mastermind behind countless political schemes and scandals, serving as Texas Governor was his most direct way to gain the political power and recognition he so clearly desired (Stayton). After a successful first term, Ferguson immediately began his second term with an egocentric mindset that led him into troubled waters with Texas officials. After disagreeing with The University of Texas Board of Regents’ choice of president, the former governor abused his powers by vetoing the university’s entire appropriations budget. This bold act of rebellion shocked and angered UT students, professors and government officials. On July 21st, 1917, charges were made that led to the first impeachment of a governor in Texas history (Steen).
For instance, he resigned the day before his impeachment, fully intending to enter the race again and reclaiming his “rightful” spot in the Texas capitol (Steen) After being defeated for the Democratic nomination, Ferguson was unable to get back on the ballot for governor. Except his pride would not allow for failure to define his career. He made the decision to extend his political power to and through his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson (Huddleston), and had her run on his behalf in the 1924 Gubernatorial race.
Ferguson’s need for control and blatant opposition to his adversaries became even clearer during his wife’s campaign for office. “Ma” Ferguson ran with campaign slogans like “Me for Ma and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa” and “Two governors for the price of one” (Patrick). These blatant messages showed voters that “Pa” would still be in charge if elected. With outspoken messages against the KKK and Prohibition, “Ma” won the election and started “her” career as the first women governor of Texas, and once again the Fergusons were back in office. Even after receiving a second chance at the governorship, however, the couple continued their pattern of public controversy and corruption within the state capitol.
Despite running on a platform of honesty and reconciliation, Ma’s first two years in office were more contentious than voters had hoped. The couple was prosecuted of cronyism, after granting friends and political supports contracts from the state highway commission (Huddleston). By the late 1920s to early 1930s, public sentiment towards the Fergusons took a turn for the worse (Dallas Morning News). At that point, Texas citizens were tired of the couple’s unethical behavior and their lack of respect for the office. The people’s hope diminished as their weariness grew, because of the notorious greed and fraud that marked the Fergusonian period. In fact, the media, which opposed the couple’s political antics, coined a new term—
“Fergusonism”—in the 1920s to refer to and to underscore “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson’s corrupt actions (Brown).
For the last time, Mariam decided to run against incumbent Governor Ross Sterling in the 1932 gubernatorial election. In an article entitled, “Sterling Support”, the Dallas Morning News published the article to officially announce its support for the Sterling candidacy and to revoke support for the Fergusons, candidates who had once enjoyed the newspaper’s endorsement. At the time, The Dallas Morning News stated that it was “primarily against the spoils system which Fergusonism represents,” most likely referring to the 1924 state highway commission contract scandal, as well as the many other political transgressions during the two decades the Fergusons held office. The Dallas Morning News’editorial both explained how its opposition to the couple resulted from the “bitter disappointment of the faith put in the Fergusons in 1924” and also asserted, “in complete unison,” the newspaper’s support for Ross Sterling.
The political cartoon, “He Remembers the Old Shell Game” by John Knott, appeared in the same issue of the Dallas Morning News on August 15, 1932. After decades of the Ferguson’s strong grip on political office, Knott depicts “Old Man Texas,” a representative of the everyday, average Texan (Perez), standing up to “Jim” Ferguson and the political games he played while in power at the Texas State House. The politician is playing a “shell game” which is a game “where a person hides a small object underneath one of three nutshells, thimbles, or cups, then shuffles them about on a flat surface while spectators try to guess the final location of the object (YourDictionary)”. The phrase shell game also refers to “any scheme for tricking and cheating people (YourDictionary)”. Within the cartoon, the shells, Labeled, “Ma”, Jim and Gov. Office, represent the control and responsibility that Ferguson had over the Texas people during the “Fergusonian” period. By depicting Ferguson’s political motivations as a shady gambling game, humor is used to show the realization of the Texas people and how they no longer wanted to be under the control of a politician who covertly shifted his responsibility and power for years right before his constituents. Through this cartoon, the artist conveys the fact that public opinion had shifted from trust in, to skepticism about, Ferguson’s leadership.
Ultimately, Knott’s political cartoon depicts the frustration that grew towards former Governor Jim Ferguson and all his tricks to maintain control over Texas politics. After controlling the gubernatorial office for over two decades, the Fergusons set an unfortunate precedent for unethical leadership. As their time in office continued, power was never enough. Always hungry for more, the couple did whatever it took to keep their name relevant and political control in their hands, even if it harmed the voters who gave them their position in the first place. Unfortunately, “Fergusonism” has become a norm in politics today. It is now common for corruption and indictments to make headlines. The Fergusons paved the way for new, boisterous politicians to pander to the public and continue the tradition of dirty Texas politics for years to come.
“”Fergusonism and the Klan”.” “Fergusonism and the Klan”. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://www2.austin.cc.tx.us/lpatrick/his1693/klan.html.
Handbook of Texas Online, Joan Jenkins Perez, “Knott, John Francis,” accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, “Ferguson, James Edward,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe05.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 24, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Handbook of Texas Online, “Sterling, Ross Shaw,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fst42.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 7, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Handbook of Texas Online, Ben H. Procter, “Great Depression,” accessed March 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npg01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Handbook of Texas Online, Norman D. Brown, “Texas In the 1920s,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npt01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Handbook of Texas Online, Richard T. Fleming, “Moody, Daniel James, Jr.,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmo19.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 26, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Knott, John. “He Remembers the Old Shell Game.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.
Staff. “Sterling Support.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.
Stayton, Jennifer. “Meet James ‘Pa’ Ferguson, the First Texas Governor to Face an Indictment.” KUT, kut.org/post/meet-james-pa-ferguson-first-texas-governor-face-indictment.
In Texas, the government is big, and the ethical dilemmas are even bigger. For decades, the Lone Star State has been home to scandals—i.e., conspiracy, stock fraud, bribery, and other forms of corruption—caused by unscrupulous politicians, including high-ranking ones, whose actions mislead voters and undermine good governance. Recently, one of Texas’s most notable politicians, former Governor Rick Perry, continued this infamous Texas legacy. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times published the article, “Texas Gov. Rick Perry is indicted, accused of abusing his power,” which examined one of many controversial events that took place during Perry’s time as governor (“Texas Gov. Rick Perry Is Indicted”). Perry, who served in office for fourteen years, made headlines for his questionable ethical decisions and corruption, all while consolidating power and exerting a strong influence that continues to resonate in and through state government (“Rick Perry Biography”). Like his infamous 20th century predecessor, Jim Ferguson, as head of the executive branch of state government Perry exercised abuse of power, engaged in cronyism, and maneuvered to extend his political reach beyond his time in office (Nadler and Shulman).
Rick Perry has never been shy about making bold moves to keep a foothold in public office. After two failed runs for the presidency, Perry currently serves as the fourteenth United States Secretary of Energy appointed by President Donald Trump (“Rick Perry”). In 1989, after switching allegiance from the Democratic Party to membership in the Grand Old Party (GOP), Perry became one of Texas’s most controversial Republican figures (“Rick Perry Biography”). His leadership and political promises were overshadowed by the numerous scandals that took place during his time in elected office—i.e., as a member of the Texas House of Representatives (1985-1991); as Commissioner of Agriculture of Texas (1991-1999); as Lieutenant Governor of Texas (1999-2000); and as Governor of Texas (2000-2015) (Texas State Archives). Whenever ethics were in question, Perry did not shy away from conflict and regularly made unorthodox decisions to maintain his image and power for future political endeavors (Barabak).
During his years in state office, Perry was known as a political powerhouse who was not afraid to bend the rules or to govern in sometimes controversial ways. For example, as Governor in 2013 and while saddled with low approval ratings, he engaged in a bitter power struggle with public universities, especially with then University of Texas President, Bill Powers. The challenges arose after Perry met with advocates from the conservative think tank, Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). The organization pushed for public research universities in the Lone Star State to be run in a more “business-like” way, following “seven breakthrough solutions” offered by Perry’s friend, donor, and TPPF board member, Jeff Sanderfer (Ramsey). Some of the most controversial suggested reforms included: “rating professors, based on student assessments; separating teaching and research; and including revenue as one measure of whether a program or class should continue” (Ramsey). In response to the proposed changes, there was immediate resistance from university leaders, but under Perry’s control and in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, change was inevitable. The Governor’s alma mater, Texas A&M University, did not last long in the resistance, ultimately resulting in University Chancellor Mike McKinney’s replacement by John Sharp (none other than the Governor’s former classmate and fellow yell leader), as per Rick Perry’s request (“John”). As aggressive changes were taking place on A&M’s campus, tensions continued to escalate on Texas’s flagship research campus, The University of Texas at Austin (UT).
These acts of dominance over Texas’s higher education system were a clear overstep by Perry. As a C student himself, he did not have much credibility to make decisions for postsecondary educators. Nevertheless, the Governor used his political authority and power to make changes that appeased voters. Bill Powers, former UT-Austin President, resisted Perry’s “business-like” higher ed reforms, which turned into a contentious public battle between university officials and the Governor (Jensen). Despite objections from Powers and the UT Austin community, Perry succeeded. He appointed Board of Regents and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who eventually called for Power’s resignation (Jensen).
Even as the public became aware of Perry’s domineering leadership style, he continued to make headlines for certain unprincipled decisions, and these controversies culminated in 2014 when Perry was indicted for abuse of power for his attempt to force Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney (DA) to resign. When she refused, Perry then attempted to unilaterally veto funding for the DA’s Office. More specifically and very controversially, the Governor threatened to defund the statewide public integrity unit (Malewitz, Ramsey).
According to the Perry, he sought Lehmberg’s resignation solely because she was professionally disgraced, after being arrested and pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. The DA’s Office, on the other hand, understood the Republican Governor to be making a threat that was designed to drive out the DA who was a Democrat. Moreover, given the drastic efforts Perry made, there was speculation that his actions were fueled by his own political agenda, because at the time, the nearly defunded public integrity unit was in the process of investigating “his own party’s mismanagement of state government agencies, including alleged corruption in CPRIT [the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas] (Nueman)”.
On August 14, 2015, a grand jury in Austin, Texas, indicted Rick Perry “on two charges related to his effort last year to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign” (Plohetski). That indictment was eventually overturned, however, by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Two judges’ dissension and another judge’s abstention notwithstanding, the Court dismissed the case after finding Perry’s veto lawful on behalf of his 1st Amendment rights (Malewitz, Ramsey). Immediately thereafter, Perry spoke of how the indictment was “nothing less than a baseless political attack, and an assault on constitutional powers,” that negatively affected his run for U.S. President at the time (Tatum).
With over fourteen years of governorship, Perry had extensive connections and deep political ties that he kept loyal to, even if they did not benefit the greater public good. His participation in the “good ol’ boy network” garnered scrutiny in the public eye. Most notably and as an example, in 2007 Governor Perry issued an executive order requiring all girls entering the sixth-grade to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Only a few hours later, Perry rolled back his decision and claimed, “he was misinformed” and “made a mistake” (Root). In Perry’s eyes, his mistake may have not been that he made an unethical decision on behalf thousands of Texan’s public health, but that he did not keep his ties to the drug distributor, Merck, more undercover from the public, for his own personal gain. To make things even murkier, Mike Toomey, Perry’s former Chief of Staff, was one of three lobbyists for the company at the time, revealing an obvious act of cronyism that was an embarrassment to the Perry Administration. Still more accusations were made against Perry’s ethics and personal interests after watchdog groups exposed the fact that Merck donated money to Perry’s re-election campaign (Root).
During his extended governorship, Perry’s involvement in cronyism scandals and political favors became a normal practice in the Texas Capitol. In 2013, CPRIT was back in the news, as a criminal investigation was opened after finding out that an eleven billion-dollar grant was given to a Dallas based bio-therapeutic company without proper “scientific or business review” (Drew). Perry later signed a bill to restructure the agency in order to regain confidence and trust during his national run for the presidency.
As more stories were published concerning corruption in the capitol, the public began to grow weary of his administration’s dominance in Texas politics. In 2014, 62% of Texans felt that Perry’s resignation was “long overdue,” and 51% of Americans disapproved of his presidential run as a GOP candidate (Jensen). Even as public opinion dwindled, Perry was not finished with his position just yet. Before he left, he made sure to build a strong foundation for continuing conservative dominance in Texas politics for years to come (“Gov. Rick Perry, Leaving Office”).
During the fourteen years that Perry controlled the Texas executive branch, he established an influence and legacy that is continuing well after his time in office. With over 8,000 appointments made, Perry established deep roots for his own ideology and for conservatism in Texas’s state capitol (McDonald). This record number of appointments will shape policy and establish his power in several different areas throughout the state—i.e., over the University of Texas System Board of Regents, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and in many other positions throughout the state. (McDonald). Even now, as the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Energy, Perry’s influence continues to make an impact on Texas and American politics far beyond his time as governor. By championing energy independence, Perry continues to keep his political agenda a priority, which in turn still points to Texas. Since oil is one of the state’s largest industries, Perry’s political influence still makes an impact back home (Braun).
Rick Perry, the strong Texas political figure that he was, garnered equal parts attention and criticism for his bold behavior and shady politics. Just as Perry did not shy from controversial views, neither did his critics, most notably the late political columnist, Molly Ivins. Born and raised in the Lone Star State, she famously penned the nickname, “Governor Goodhair” to describe to him and wittily highlighted the difference between “Texas Tough and Texas Stupid” (Ivins). Her criticism was welcomed by many Texans and helped create comic relief during Perry’s extended governorship.
Illustrated by William “Bubba” Flint and published by the Dallas Morning News, the political cartoon atop this blog post depicts Rick Perry looking roughed up. He has a black eye, the result of the “Perry Indictment.” On his head is a large-brimmed cowboy hat labeled “Texas Politics.” Deceptively simple, Flint’s cartoon visually represents the rough and tumble of state politics: By “donning the hat”—i.e., engaging in Texas Politics—Rick Perry has taken a beating, and his public image has been battered and bruised by all the scandals and indictments.
Throughout Texas’s political history, Rick Perry is only one of many governors who have endured scandals and implemented questionable policies in their time of governorship. In many ways, Jim “Pa” Ferguson, Texas governor from 1914-1917, was involved in scandals that closely mirrored Perry’s. For instance, Ferguson was the first governor to be indicted and impeached while in office, and like Perry, Ferguson was indicted for overstepping his power and starting political turmoil with University leadership (Steen).
Like today, the Lone Star State’s gubernatorial scandals were captured in political cartoons of the era. For example, in a political cartoon published by the Dallas Morning News in 1932, Ferguson was depicted playing a “shell game”, a gambling game that is meant to confuse and disarm the players (Dallas Morning News). The illustration refers to the numerous scandals and shifting of political responsibility by Ferguson and the resultant mistrust that the Texas public had for him. Due to several acts of cronyism and mishandlings of power on his part, the media coined a new phrase, “Fergusonism,” to describe the corruption and scandalous behavior that characterized his extended time in office (Brown). The Dallas Morning News published an accompanying editorial, titled, “Sterling Support”, to publicly revoke their past support of Ferguson, in direct response to the mishandling and scandals that Fergusonism brought (“Sterling Support”).
In their respective times at the Texas State Capitol, former governors Rick Perry and Jim Ferguson boldly took office and used their power for personal advantage and for the benefit of those in their inner circles. Many of their policies recklessly abandoned ethics and followed in the long line of corrupt politicians who have set a rather low bar as the standard in Texas politics. As it often does, history is repeating itself, and in the 21st century, Texas appears on track to continue its legacy of deep partisanship and dirty politics for years to come.
Link to LA Times article ‘Texas Gov. Rick Perry is indicted, accused of abusing his power’
Anderson, Nick, and Houston Chronicle. “Rick Perry’s Return to Spotlight Brings a Return to Editorial Cartoons for ‘Oops’ Moment.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 19 Jan. 2017, www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/anderson/article/Rick-Perry-s-return-to-spotlight-brings-a-return-10869459.php#photo-8616106.
Barabak, Mark Z. “Gov. Rick Perry, Leaving Office, Ends an Influential Era in Texas.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2015, www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-texas-politics-perry-abbott-20150120-story.html.
McDonald, Christian. “The Rick Perry Legacy: Government Overseers Who Think like He Does.” Mystatesman, American-Statesman Staff, 22 Sept. 2014, www.mystatesman.com/news/the-rick-perry-legacy-government-overseers-who-think-like-does/mbVM77p7aMTVC2OzWqnpNP/.
Plohetski, Tony. “Rick Perry Indicted for Lehmberg Veto Threat.” Statesman, Associated Press, 16 Aug. 2014, www.statesman.com/news/rick-perry-indicted-for-lehmberg-veto-threat/tQ4rPHj7Zx2HOxCECBfMsO/.
Ramsey, Ross. “Tensions Between Rick Perry and U.T.’s Bill Powers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/us/tensions-between-rick-perry-and-uts-bill-powers.html?auth=login-smartlock.
Staff, KUT. “Governor Rick Perry Indicted on Two Felony Charges.” KUT 90.5, 15 Aug. 2014, kut.org/post/governor-rick-perry-indicted-two-felony-charges.
Staff. “Sterling Support.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.
Tatum, Sophie. “Charges against Rick Perry Dismissed in Abuse of Power Case – CNNPolitics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Feb. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/02/24/politics/rick-perry-indictment-dropped/index.html
U.S. President Donald Trump insists that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “deposit money” and bear more of the costs of the NATO alliance.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), or North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 North American and European countries that was formed in 1949 in response to World War II. According to the NATO website, the alliance has goals of deterring Soviet expansionism; forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent; and encouraging European political integration (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). For NATO to work, members must make sure their armed forces are financially stable. To do that, NATO partners agreed on an official budgetary goal or standard that determines how much each country should contribute. That standard was, and still is, 2% of each country’s gross domestic product or GDP (Kottasova). Presently, however, the United States and its NATO allies are debating whether all members are shouldering their fair share of the cost burden.
Historically, the United States has provided the biggest share of military power to NATO. Over the decades, debates over whether or not this arrangement is fair have ebbed and flowed. For example, in a 2011 editorial in the New York Times, entitled “Talking Truth to NATO,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates implied that the United States can no longer “afford to do a disproportionate share of NATO’s fighting and pay a disproportionate share of its bills, while Europe slashes its defense budgets, and free-rides on the collective security benefits” (Talking Truth To NATO). Donald Trump, the current United States President, is particularly concerned about this issue. Since his election, Trump has repeatedly and publicly complained that NATO allies are not paying their fair share financially. He contends that they are “free riders,” reaping the benefits of peace and security provided by the United States military (The Hill).
NATO was formed to protect the North Atlantic Alliance from military attacks from other countries. In order to be a part of NATO, countries must meet certain requirements. The (candidate) members must first have a secure and stable democratic system of government. Additionally, they must have good relationships with their neighbors and show a commitment to the rule of law and to human rights. Finally, the (candidate) members must contribute their military to the collective defense, and the country has to bring their budgetary legislation in line with NATO’s standards (Tomuic).
Illustrated by Dana Summers, the contemporary cartoon featured in this blog post first appeared on the US News website as their daily cartoon on May 31, 2017. The cartoon depicts Donald Trump confronting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels to discuss NATO and the amount of money Germany is (or is not) contributing to NATO. The cartoon represents the meeting Donald Trump had with NATO allies to discuss each country’s total contribution to the collective defense (Applebaum). That meeting occurred on May 25 in Brussels and focused on the “new security environment, including the Alliance’s role in the fight against terrorism, and the importance of increased defense spending and fairer burden-sharing” (Kottasova). Therefore, the cartoon illustrated by Dana Summers, came from the meeting Trump had with the allied countries regarding NATO and the expenses the U.S. has already paid.
In a New York Timesarticle, entitled “Trump Says NATO Allies Don’t Pay Their Share. Is That True?”, which was published a day after the meeting in Brussels, President Trump complained that “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense” (Baker). The quote reflects Trump’s frustration with NATO partners who, in his perspective, have not held up their end of the deal. He believes the United States has been loyal to the financial agreement it made as a NATO member. In return, he believes the other NATO allies should be contributing more of their GDP to NATO.
Summers’ cartoon depicts Trump’s demand that other countries pay more as part of their commitment to NATO. In the cartoon, Trump looks frustrated, as though he has been waiting for the money he believes he is owed. In the illustration, the hat on the ground serves as if it is a collection plate, into which Angela Merkel is expected to “deposit money” for NATO. In this political cartoon, Merkel also symbolizes other European allies with whom Trump is frustrated. Merkel’s facial expression in the cartoon appears as though she too is upset—with the fact that President Trump is asking for money and because she does not think Germany and other European allies owe that money to NATO. In short, Summer’s cartoon captures the mutual dissatisfaction and consternation among allies over matters of fairness and free-riding.
Because NATO does not have legislative power, its members cannot be punished for not putting in as much money as the United States. However, as Summers’ political cartoon illustrates, Trump expects them to keep their word and pay more, in case one of the European allied countries goes to war or needs protection. Basically, having an alliance with these countries means believing that they will do what they agree to do. In Trump’s view, the other countries are not fully living up to their agreements vis-a-vis NATO. That is, they are not making financial contributions reflective of their GDPs. Trump is frustrated and feels that the United States cannot trust its NATO allies. This defeats the purpose of an alliance. Of the 28 countries that belong to NATO, the United States pays the most according to our country’s GDP, along with providing the most protection (Kottasova). Other NATO countries should accept the same degree of responsibility and loyalty that the United States has displayed.
President Trump feels as though the financial responsibility for NATO has not been reciprocated by other member countries. This “free rider” problem was further aggravated by the 2008 Great Recession, which significantly added to the United States’ debt. By the end of 2017, the United States’ national debt totaled approximately $19.84 trillion. To put this in perspective, this is equal to each citizen of the United States having to pay $60,890 to cover the national debt (Patton). Debt correlates to stress and worry. It is not something most Americans want to deal with in their personal lives, so it is no mystery that debt causes concern in many people regarding our country and its future (Foster).
The United States government operates on an annual budget each year. The budget provides a guide that helps determine where and how to spend the money generated through taxes. If the government only spends as much as it makes, then the United States stays on budget. When the government spends more than it takes in through taxes, it is forced to borrow money either from domestic and foreign investors or from other governments. The result is a budget deficit and indebtedness to other groups. The total national debt equals the sum of all budget deficits over the years, and for most of the last 60 years, the United States federal government has had an issue with spending more than it takes in, causing a massive national debt (Patton).
AnotherNew York Times article,“As Debt Fear Fades, Risks Remain,” warns Americans not to get too comfortable with the growing amount of national debt (Applebaum). One of the downsides of debt is that interest has to be paid for the amount of money that is borrowed. Interest is the money charged for borrowing a sum over an amount of time and is essentially a fee that must continue to be paid every year until the amount of money borrowed is completely paid off (“Interest”). Theaforementioned article estimates that the United States could be paying a total of $6 trillion in interest over the next decade. This $6 trillion is in addition to what was previously borrowed, and will only continue to grow until the loans are paid off (Applebaum).
National debt is not a new problem. It is as old as the United States itself. Concern about the prospect of American insolvency has been going on for years. The United States is not the only country that struggles with national debt. Many countries have national debt, especially after the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008 and protracted Great Recession.
The United States also experienced significant war debt after World War I. At that time, Great Britain and France owed the United States money that had been borrowed and loaned between the Allies during WWI (Potter). In 1931, a Dallas Morning News cartoonist named John Knott published a comic referring to that debt. Knott’s cartoon, “Better Than Nothing,” shows Uncle Sam, who represents the United States, standing off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico asking Great Britain and France to make good on the war debts they owed but were unable to repay. The representations of these countries look quite unfazed as they share a smoke together. The Knott cartoon is an example of how concern over debt in the United States has been a pattern in the context of the United States’ relationships with its allies. Similarly, debt is aggravating Trump’s concern over insufficient funding by NATO allies. Since the United States currently has significant debt, that increases the need for other NATO members to contribute their fair shares financially. For them not to pay their fair shares would be a continuance of allies not matching what the United States is contributing financially.
Both Knott’s and Summers’ political cartoons show representations of the United States insisting that its European allies either pay back debt from or pay more money to the costs of collective defense. These cartoons focus attention on the fact that other countries enjoy security provided by the United States, arguably without paying a sufficient amount to cover the costs of that security. Both cartoons suggest that the United States should be more fairly compensated for the significant contributions that it brings to allied defense.
Both historically and currently under Republican leadership, military and defense spending has been a high priority in America. This priority has continued under President Trump, increasing the financial pressure on the United States and making NATO contributions even more important. Chancellor Merkel may feel that her country’s spending for NATO is enough due to its non-monetary contributions (e.g., providing in-country military bases) and based on what she believes is important for German national priorities. However, President Trump feels that the United States is owed more money from Germany, and from other NATO allies, because of the expensive security umbrella that the US provides and that covers other countries in the North Atlantic Alliance. He insists that NATO allies are not paying their fair share financially and that the United States should be more fairly compensated for the significant contributions America makes to NATO.
Baker, Peter. “Trump Says NATO Allies Don’t Pay Their Share. Is That True?” New York Times, 26 May 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/world/europe/nato-trump-spending.html.
Foster, Michael. “Federal Debt Is Reaching $20 Trillion and That’s Not A Bad Thing.” Forbes, 27 Dec. 1931, p. 1, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelfoster/2017/11/08/federal-debt-is-reaching-20-trillion-and-i-dont-care/#6e68494832ba.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is depicted humorously in the Palazzo Massimo in a political cartoon by Paresh Nath, contrasted with prominent historical works of art: Augustus of Primaporta and The Lancellotti Discobolus.
In this political cartoon by Khaleej Times cartoonist Paresh Nath, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is illustrated alongside famous Roman sculptures of Augustus Caesar Octavianus and The Discobolus. The cartoon is an ironic depiction of the corrupt Italian politician juxtaposed against great figures in Italian historical culture, and references a larger historical context. In addition to the contrasts Nath attributes between the celebrated connotations of these prominent masterpieces and Silvio Berlusconi’s nefarious political career, wider connections can also be drawn among Berlusconi and another leader from Italy’s past: Benito Mussolini. Though far from identical leaders in practice, their respective rise and fall in political power share notable similarities. The egotistical demeanor with which both men governed Italy would indeed lead many to satirically label them as self-proclaimed Roman heroes.
The figures in Paresh Nath’s cartoon are depicted in the Palazzo Massimo, one of four parts of the National Roman Museum in Italy. This particular building holds “one of the world’s largest collections of ancient art” (National Roman Museum), featuring prominent Roman paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. The Discobolus, translated simply as “The Discus-thrower,” was originally produced by the 5th century Greek artist Myron (Sculpture of the Classical Period, 411). The Roman Empire adopted this masterpiece and reproduced countless copies, which were dispersed throughout villas as a symbol of cultured taste. “One of the most famous sculptures from ancient times” (Butler, 1), the Discus-thrower represents the perfect image of beauty, youth, athleticism, and balance, according to ancient Greek ideals. The specific Discobolus that is located in the National Museum of Rome today is the Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus, which was “notoriously sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a trophy of the Aryan race” (Butler, 1). The importance of this transaction will be revisited later in the analysis.
Even more intriguing is the inclusion of Augustus Caesar Octavian in the cartoon, wherein Berlusconi’s pose is notably identical to Octavian’s. This statue of the Roman Emperor is named Augustus of Primaporta, sans the small angel that accompanies him at his feet. There exist many different sculptures of the man, although this is certainly the most famed version. The decision to include this particular version is significant, because it was sculpted as an idealization after his death (Ford, 1). Throughout his life – and especially during his political career – Octavian only wanted himself depicted by others as humble and modest; thus, it is the only sculpture of him in military attire and with an allusion to the divine (although the angel is absent in Nath’s cartoon).
Successor to his great-uncle Julius Caesar, Octavian faced many adversaries at the inception of his rule, including those who murdered his great-uncle (“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 88-89). The Battle of Actium concluded in his favor when his last rival, Marcus Antonius, was defeated (“Augustus Caesar Octavianus, 88-89). The sole remaining ruler of the Roman Empire, Octavian stabilized, expanded, colonized, and reformed the civilization, bringing about a golden age and a Pax Romana. During this time, Roman culture and commerce flourished under his reign and even well after his death (“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 89-90).
Over two millennia later, Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power began with his entry into the real estate market during the post-war development boom of the 1960s (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). He followed this success by building a media empire throughout the 1970s and 1980s, developing of a massive private network television market (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). His status as a prominent media mogul would eventually propel him to the seat of government power in 1994. Berlusconi utilized his expansive media holdings to campaign for the office of the Italian Prime Minister, and won the position on the promise that he would clear out the corruption that plagued the Italian government. Despite convictions of financial crimes and allegations of further corruption that temporarily forced him from the seat, he remained in Parliament as the opposition party leader until his re-election to premiership in 2001 (Silvio Berlusconi, 49-50).
By 2004, Berlusconi had been Prime Minister of the longest-lasting Italian government in the history of the country, gaining the respect of many Italians for years to come. In what was perhaps Berlusconi’s most dictatorial maneuver of his premiership, after his re-election in 2008 he prioritized his government’s legislation to pass a law that granted the Prime Minister immunity to prosecution (Hooper). Of course, this law was swiftly dismantled by Italy’s constitutional court. Unfortunately for his image, by 2011, years of corruption and scandal finally caught up to the unethical politician. Berlusconi resigned from the position amidst allegations of abuse of office, child sexual abuse, and tax fraud (Giuffrida). After being convicted of the tax fraud charges in 2013, he was forcefully removed from Parliament as well and banned from office. However, he would remain the iconographical leader of the Forza Italia party, which would renew his political strength in only five years.
In Nath’s illustration, Berlusconi is facetiously being placed on the same degree as Octavian. By drawing Berlusconi imitating Octavian’s pose, Nath is humorizing Berlusconi’s consistent practice of idealizing himself as a great man and an experienced politician. Even though both rulers promoted economic growth under their authority, Octavian actively sought to root out corruption in his government, while Berlusconi only claimed to do so (Encyclopedia of World Biography). In fact, most of the moral degradation of Berlusconi’s government derived from his own premiership. Despite this, Berlusconi has repeatedly upheld that he is “the best political leader in Europe and in the world” (BBC News).This egotistical attitude is contrasted with irony in Nath’s cartoon. His pants, labeled “Morality,” are drawn at his ankles, and his heart-spotted underwear is a clear innuendo to the 2011 child sexual abuse case he was involved in with the underage prostitute, “Ruby the Heart Stealer” (Squires). The crowd surrounding him represents the massive publicity that his numerous scandals provoked.
Furthermore, Berlusconi is also contrasted with the Discus-thrower. The cartoonist Nath even characterized them with the same body type, a simple action that degrades The Discobolus from its status as one of the most prominent historical works of art. Again, Nath is utilizing irony to spuriously situate Berlusconi at the same level of prominence as a historical masterpiece; however, one subject is famous, while the other is infamous. As discussed previously, The Discobolus was crafted out of the ancient Greek notion of physical perfection and ideal form. It is now regarded as one of the greatest works of art ever created, which gives more power to Nath’s juxtaposition of the piece against the public humiliation and shame that riddled Berlusconi’s late political career.
The 1930’s era political cartoon, “Telling the World” by John Knott depicts the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during his 1932 address to the citizens of Turin, Italy. Its accompanying editorial in the Dallas Morning News, “Mussolini and the Crisis,” provides more universal context referencing the content of the speech. A strong connection exists between the John Knott’s “Telling the World” and Paresh Nath’s “Roman Hero”. Mussolini’s Turin speech took place during the tenth anniversary of the Fascist Party’s political takeover of Italy. In an effort to legitimize his party’s political scheme as well as his dictatorship in the eyes of the citizens of Italy, Mussolini utilized ancient Roman architecture and art – such as the statues in Nath’s cartoon – heavily in his fascist propaganda (Brangers, 125). His goals were to cast the Fascist party as unifiers under a new Rome and to associate himself with the great Emperor Augustus Caesar Octavianus (Brangers, 125). “The State before the individual” was a belief that both the ancient Romans and the Fascists seemed to share. Mussolini promoted the construction of works of art glorifying the united Roman Empire under Octavian throughout Italy as part of his propaganda machine. He even initiated major archeological projects to uncover four ancient Roman buildings that he hoped would epitomize the magnificence of ancient Rome and of his own ruling. These projects also had a practical purpose other than ideological propaganda, however. The plans to clear old buildings and roads in order to uncover the ancient buildings also included arrangements to build wider roads and piazzas to better accommodate the rapidly growing population in the city of Rome (Brangers, 125). The demolition and construction of these locations also granted jobs to many laborers that were desperate for employment in a deteriorating economy.
In addition to this, the famous Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus – as mentioned previously – was sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 for five million lira (Italy’s currency at that time) by the struggling Italian Lancellotti family (Sooke, 1). It was placed in the Glyptothek museum in Munich for all Germans to view, however it was returned to Italy in 1948 after World War II’s conclusion. The Nazi leader had taken large interest in the marble sculpture as supremely representative of Germany’s then-visual ideology of the “master race” (Sooke, 1) due to its portrayal as a beautiful, ideal white male body in athletic form. Personally, Hitler wanted to be associated with the era that the original piece was built during: 5th Century BC, the golden age of Classical Greece (Sooke, 1). He also desired to bring with the sculpture the values it embodied: balance, athleticism, and of course, male beauty. Similarly to how Mussolini utilized archeological projects and ancient Roman architecture for fascist propaganda purposes, Hitler used this statue to propagandize the Nazis’ idealization of the perfect physical Aryan form.
Finally, direct ties can even be drawn between Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini. When initially forming his Forza Italia political party, Berlusconi allied himself with the leader of a disbanded neo-fascist group (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). This disrupted his 1992 campaign briefly when the leader of the group praised Mussolini as “the century’s finest statesman” (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). Berlusconi managed to overcome criticisms as a result of this comment and emerged as Italy’s Prime Minister; however, his charismatic influence could not shield him from scathing backlash when he himself praised Mussolini as a good leader on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2013 (BBC News).
Although enough differences exist between the two men to reject characterizing Berlusconi as a repetition of Mussolini, there are similarities between their efforts to gain initial political standing. The Italian public’s discontent with established institutions and the country’s poor economic standing offered both men the opportunity to gain power through promises of change and rectification. They utilized the media to establish political footing and to “cultivate a direct bond with Italians” (Ben-Ghiat), a bond that was severed when each was disgracefully forced from their respective positions of power.
Despite certain fundamental disparities between the two leaders – Mussolini was a socialist at his core, Berlusconi a self-made capitalist – they were both severely corrupt in their own ways. It’s no coincidence that the mockumentary film, “I’m Back”, which portrays the late Italian dictator staging a modern comeback through a darkly humorous gradient, was released in the midst of Italy’s 2018 Parliamentary elections (Poggioli). The film firmly alludes to Silvio Berlusconi’s own surprising political resurgence through his Forza Italia party in the elections. This was highlighted by the film’s Mussolini opposing the 600,000 African immigrants seeking asylum in Italy, “…you won’t find it so funny when an African steals your job” (Poggioli). The comment bears marked resemblance to the intense anti-immigration rhetoric and policy proposals imposed by Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition during the Parliamentary elections.
Unlike the statues in the Palazzo Massimo, the legacies of Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi as leaders are permeated with dishonor and public reproach. Far from Roman heroes, their deeds and convictions are in stark contrast to the accomplishments of Octavian and the philosophies of Myron. Paresh Nath’s political cartoon focuses on the convoluted morality of one of Italy’s longest running leaders, while addressing the dilemmas of the country’s past that have resurfaced in the present.
“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus.” Ancient Greece and Rome: An Encyclopedia for Students, edited by Carroll Moulton, vol. 1, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998, pp. 87-91. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX2897200063/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=a6828a46. Accessed 22 May 2018.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “An American Authoritarian.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Aug. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/american-authoritarianism-under-donald-trump/495263/.
“Berlusconi Praises Mussolini on Holocaust Memorial Day.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Jan. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21222341.
“Berlusconi, Silvio.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, edited by Tracie Ratiner, 2nd ed., vol. 25, Gale, 2005, pp. 48-50. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3446400032/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=bd181530. Accessed 20 May 2018.
Brangers, Susan L. Fugate. Political Propaganda and Archaeology: The Mausoleum of Augustus in the Fascist Era. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Aug. 2013, www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_16_Special_Issue_August_2013/15.pdf.
Butler, Simon. “The Discobolus.” Hidden History, 30 June 2018, www.hiddenhistory.co.uk/2017/03/28/the-discobolus/.
Ford, Josh. “Augustus of Prima Porta.” Ancient Art, 24 Apr. 2015, ancientart.as.ua.edu/augustus-of-prima-porta/.
Hooper, John. “Silvio Berlusconi: Immunity Granted by Parliament Could Yet Be Voided by Top Court.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Feb. 2009, www.theguardian.com/world/2009/feb/18/silvio-berlusconi-immunity-prosecution.
“In Quotes: Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in His Own Words.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Aug. 2013, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-15642201.
Knott, John. Telling the World, 25 Oct. 1932.
Leslie, Larry Z. “Worldwide Perspective.” Celebrity in the 21st Century: A Reference Handbook, ABC-CLIO, 2011, pp. 75-103. Contemporary World Issues. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX2532800012/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=94ef7b2d. Accessed 20 May 2018.
“Mussolini and the Crisis.” Dallas Morning News, 25 Oct. 1932. Page 2.
O’Mahony, Mike. “In the Shadow of Myron: The Impact of the Discobolus on Representations of Olympic Sport from Victorian Britain to Contemporary China.” Taylor & Francis, 8 May 2012, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09523367.2012.657628?src=recsys.
“Sculpture of the Classical Period.” Arts and Humanities Through the Eras, edited by Edward I. Bleiberg, et al., vol. 2: Ancient Greece and Rome 1200 B.C.E.-476 C.E. Gale, 2005, pp. 410-420. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3427400368/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=984ec1f8. Accessed 22 May 2018.
“Silvio Berlusconi, Roman Hero.” World Scene Today, 26 Feb. 2011, ericyoungonline.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/silvio-berlusconi-roman-hero/.
Sooke, Alastair. “Culture – The Discobolus: Greeks, Nazis and the Body Beautiful.” BBC News, BBC, 24 Mar. 2015, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150324-hitlers-idea-of-the-perfect-body.
Squires, Nick. “Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi Faces April Trial for Relations with ‘Ruby the Heart Stealer’.” Christian Science Monitor, 15 Feb. 2011. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=58113259&site=ehost-live.
Uncle Sam asks his allies, France and Great Britain, to repay the United States for helping them
in World War I.
From the 1920’s to late 1930’s, the years following World War I, several European nations were indebted to the United States. This was due to the fact that the United States helped in many parts of the war and was not paid back. In World War I, the United States joined forces with Great Britain, Belgium, Russia and France to form the Allies, who worked together to defeat the Central Powers of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. The allies were ultimately able to win the war and force Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This Treaty contained a “war guilt clause.” By signing this clause, Germany accepted responsibility for all of the loss and damage that the war caused and agreed to pay thirty two billion dollars in war reparations (Potter).
War reparations are when a country makes amends for a transgression they have committed by paying money to the countries they wronged (Moulton and Pasvolsky). However, the years following the end of World War I were difficult for the economies of Great Britain, France and Germany not only due to the devastation, but also the expenses that came with war, such as transportation, weapons, repairs, and so forth. (“World War I Fast Facts”). Thus, the end of the WWI came with massive war reparations and war debts, which were not small sums. War debts refer to the money a country owes to another country for the resources that were borrowed to fight the war. To put it into context, even in 2014, Great Britain was still making plans to pay back what they borrowed from the United States (“First World War Debt to Be Paid off at Last”).
With their massive war reparation debts, from Germany, who had just signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28,1919, with allied nations -Britain, France, Italy and Russia- to formally end the war, Germany struggled to pay back what was determined to be owed to Great Britain and France, according to the Treaty of Versailles. In turn, this made it quite challenging for Great Britain and France to acquire the money they needed in order to fully repay the United States (Moulton and Pasvolsky).
The political cartoon by John Knott titled, “Better Than Nothing,” published on December 30, 1931, in the Dallas Morning News, depicts the United States asking to be repaid by its allies for their help in the war. The cartoon shows Uncle Sam, who represents the United States, standing off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and asking Great Britain and France to pay the war debts they owe. Since France and Great Britain were unable to pay their war debts, Uncle Sam points to the land that is near him—the large colonial possessions of Great Britain and France in the West Indies, Guiana and Central America—and says, “I might take some real estate on account.” Meanwhile,
Great Britain and France stare back across the Atlantic Ocean, looking quite unfazed as they share a smoke together. Knott’s illustration makes the point that if Great Britain and France could not pay the money back, then the United States did not want to go home empty-handed and would instead accept the two European powers’ colonial territories in the Americas as repayment.
The title of Knott’s cartoon, “Better Than Nothing,” coincides with an editorial that was published in the same Dallas Morning News issue. Written during the Great Depression, the editorial titled, “Reparations and War Debts,” announces that the United States Congress voted not to reduce or cancel the war debts. That meant that Great Britain and France were expected to pay back every cent of what they owed the United States. The article also explains that Great Britain and France had their hands tied because they needed Germany to pay them reparations before they could even afford to repay the United States.The editor equated this situation to Great Britain and France essentially being “bankrupt” and stuck. Something was going to have to give, or an alternative deal was going to have to be made, in order to move forward.
Senator Arthur Capper, a U.S. Representative of the state of Kansas who had a prominent hand in the ruling that no cancelations or reductions be made to the war debts, was quoted in an article in The New York Times as saying, “Uncle Sam has played Santa Claus long enough.” Senator Capper was worried that the amount of money the United States loaned to these Great Britain and France was beginning to become “too much of a load.” At that point, not only had America paid for most of the war itself, but also for the reconstruction that followed the war (“Capper Opposes Debt Revision; ‘Uncle Sam Santa Long Enough’”).
Another editorial that was featured alongside John Knott’s cartoon in the Dallas Morning News was entitled, “Buy Them Out.” In the piece, the editor explained how congressman Louis Thomas McFadden, a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, suggested an alternative deal that would help Great Britain and France repay the war debts they owed the United States. Instead of forcing Great Britain and France to pay billions of dollars—that they did not have—McFadden proposed offering the countries a buyout deal where they would give up their colonial territories south of the United States as repayment of their debt. The article further explained that if such an agreement were to be made, “Holland only would be left of European powers having control over United States territory south of Canada, excepting the Falkland Islands in South America.” Though this deal was fair in economic terms, it was most likely not an agreement that Great Britain and France would accept.
The message in John Knott’s cartoon was that it was only fair for the United States to walk away with at least some sort of repayment for the debt that Great Britain and France owed, even if it was not in the form of cold hard cash. In the cartoon, Knott does not portray Great Britain and France as two men who are struggling financially and can barely get by. Rather, Great Britain is drawn with a belly, portraying the state of being well-fed, and both Britain and France are smoking, an act of luxury. This kept the audience from empathizing with Britain and France and helped to show the fairness of expecting the two countries to find a way to repay what they owed the U.S. in some form or fashion.
When the United States Congress voted not to cancel or reduce the war debts owed by France and Great Britain, this demonstrated that the United States was demanding repayment no matter what. The question was not if, but how the United States was going to be repaid by the two countries. John Knott illustrated a potential answer to this question through his cartoon.
“Buy them out.” Dallas Morning News, December 30, 1931. Editorial.
“Capper Opposes Debt Revision; ‘Uncle Sam Santa Long enough’.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Dec 27, 1931, pp. 1. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/99200163?accountid=7118.
“First World War Debt to Be Paid off at Last.” Evening Standard, 03 Dec. 2014, p. 45. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=99762662&site=ehost-live.
Moulton, Harold G., and Leo Pasvolsky. World war debt settlements. The Macmillan company, 1926.
Potter, Edmund D. “World War I debts,” The 1930s in America, edited by Thomas Tandy Lewis, Salem, 2011. Salem Online.
“Reparations and War Debts.” Dallas Morning News, December 30, 1931. Editorial.
Unlce Sam asks his allies France and Great Britain to repay the United States for helping them in World War I.
In the 1920’s to late 1930’s, the years following World War I, several European nations were indebted to the Unites States, causing prominent issues. In World War I, the United States joined forces with Great Britain, Belgium, Russia and France to form the Allies and work to defeat the Central Powers made up of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. The Allies were ultimately able to win the war and force Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which contained a war guilt clause. By signing this clause; Germany was accepting responsibility for all of the loss and damage that the war caused and agreeing to pay thirty two billion dollars in war reparations (Potter). War reparations are when a country makes amends for a transgression they have committed by paying money to the countries they wronged (Moulton and Pasvolsky). However, the years following the end of the war were difficult for the economies of Great Britain, France and Germany not only due to the devastation, but also the expenses that come with war, such as transportation, weapons, repairs etc. (“World War I Fast Facts”). Thus, the end of the war came with massive war reparations and war debts. These were no small sums; to put it into context, even in 2014 Great Britain was still making plans to pay back what they borrowed from the United States. (“First World War Debt to Be Paid off at Last”).
War debts refer to the money a country owes to another country for the resources that were borrowed to fight the war. After World War I, the United States asked for war reparations from Germany, as decided in the Treaty of Versailles, and for Great Britain and France to repay war debts. Considering much of the war took place on European soil, Germany, Great Britain, and France suffered a lot of destruction to their cities. This made it quite challenging for them to acquire the money they needed in order to fully repay the United States (Moulton and Pasvolsky).
The political cartoon by John Knott titled, “Better Than Nothing” published on December 30, 1931, in the Dallas Morning News, illustrates the United States asking to be repaid by their allies for help in the war. In the cartoon, it shows Uncle Sam representing the United States off the Coast of the Gulf of Mexico, asking Great Britain and France to pay the war debts they owe. Since France and Great Britain were unable to pay the war debts, you see Uncle Sam pointing to the land that is near him—the large colonial possessions of Great Britain and France in the West Indies, Guiana and Central America—while saying “I might take some real estate on account.” If Great Britain and France could not pay the money back, the United States did not want to go home empty-handed. While Uncle Sam is asking for the land, France and Great Britain are across the Atlantic Ocean looking quite unfazed as they are sharing a smoke together.
The title of Knott’s cartoon, “Better Than Nothing” coincides with an editorial that was published in the same Dallas Morning News issue; the editorial titled, “Reparations and War Debts,” announces that United States congress voted not to reduce or cancel the war debts. That meant that Great Britain and France were expected to pay back every cent of what they owed to the United States. The article also explains that Great Britain and France had their hands tied because they needed Germany to pay them reparations before they could even afford to repay the United States.The editor equated this situation to Great Britain and France essentially being “bankrupt” and stuck. Something was going to have to give or an alternative deal was going to have to be made in order to move forward.
Senator Capper, who was one of the Senators who had a hand in the ruling that no cancelations or reductions be made to the war debts, was quoted in an article in The New York Times as saying, “Uncle Sam has played Santa Claus long enough.” Senator Capper was worried that the amount of money the United States loaned to these countries was beginning to become “too much of a load.” At that point, not only had America paid for most of the war itself, but also the reconstruction that followed the war (“Capper Opposes Debt Revision; ‘Uncle Sam Santa Long Enough’”).
Another editorial that was featured alongside John Knott’s cartoon in the Dallas Morning News was entitled “Buy Them Out.” In the article, the editor explained how Representative McFadden of the United States Congress suggested an alternative deal that would help Great Britain and France repay the war debts they owed to the United States. Instead of forcing Great Britain and France to pay billions of dollars—that they did not have—McFadden proposed offering the countries a buyout deal where they would give up their colonial territories south of the United States as repayment of their debt. The article goes on to explain that if such an agreement were to be made, “Holland only would be left of European powers having control over United States territory south of Canada, excepting the Falkland Islands in South America.” Though this deal was fair in economic terms, it was most likely not going to be something on which Great Britain and France were eager to sign off.
The message Knott is getting across with his cartoon is that it is only fair for the United States to walk away with at least some sort of repayment for the debt that Great Britain and France owe, even if it is not in the form of cold hard cash. In the cartoon, Knott does not portray Great Britain and France as two men who are struggling and can barely get by; rather, Great Britain is drawn with a belly, portraying the state of being well-fed, and both Britain and France are smoking, which can be considered an act of luxury. This keeps the audience from empathizing with Britain and France and helps to show them that it is fair to expect the two countries to find a way to repay what they owe in some form or fashion.
When the United States Congress voted not to cancel or reduce the war debts owed by France and Great Britain, this demonstrated that the United States were demanding to be repaid no matter what. The question was not if, but how the United States was going to get repaid by these countries. John Knott illustrated a potential answer to this question through his cartoon. Works Cited
“Buy them out.” Dallas Morning News, December 30, 1931. Editorial.
“Capper Opposes Debt Revision; ‘Uncle Sam Santa Long enough’.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Dec 27, 1931, pp. 1. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/99200163?accountid=7118.
“First World War Debt to Be Paid off at Last.” Evening Standard, 03 Dec. 2014, p. 45. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=99762662&site=ehost-live.
Moulton, Harold G., and Leo Pasvolsky. World war debt settlements. The Macmillan company, 1926.
Potter, Edmund D. “World War I debts,” The 1930s in America, edited by Thomas Tandy Lewis, Salem, 2011. Salem Online.
“Reparations and War Debts.” Dallas Morning News, December 30, 1931. Editorial.
Discrepancies in the treatment of the rich and poor have long been a hot topic in the United States, and more recently, this issue has manifested itself in the realm of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a “comprehensive health care reform law enacted in March 2010” during Barack Obama’s Presidency and is supported emphatically by the Democratic Party (“Affordable Care Act (ACA) – HealthCare.gov Glossary”). The ACA provides many millions of previously uninsured Americans access to affordable healthcare. As Nancy Pelosi, former US Speaker of the House, said upon passage of the law, “Today we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society and pass health insurance reform for all Americans as a right, not a privilege” (Murray and Montgomery “House Passes Health-Care Reform Bill without Republican Votes”). For almost a decade, thereafter, the Republican Party has adamantly opposed this legislation, derisively referring to it as “Obamacare” or “socialized medicine.” Some of the most vociferous opposition has come from the populist Tea Party that “loves Medicare but hates ‘Obamacare’” (Gerard “Why the Tea Party Loves Medicare but Hates Obamacare”). Ironically, many Obamacare detractors oppose the health care reform that is in their best interests. As of July 2017, a report in Newsweek noted that there have been “at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act” (Riotta “GOP Aims to Kill Obamacare Yet Again after Failing 70 Times”). Nevertheless, the ACA remains the law of the land. Even in the era of the Trump Presidency and the Republican-controlled House and Senate, majority of Americans have turned against efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare because doing so would provide significant tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while removing healthcare coverage for millions of middle and lower-class citizens along with downstream detrimental effects (Alic “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). Monte Wolverton’s political cartoon, “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich,” takes a heavily sarcastic tone in addressing these disparities by utilizing an affluent appearing cartoon figure’s commentary to address the blatant inequities inherent in GOP efforts to do away with the ACA.
Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it was estimated that over 53 million Americans were living without healthcare coverage and millions more were underinsured due to the increasing price tag (Alic “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). In order to combat these alarming truths, the Affordable Care Act was passed on March 23, 2010, and under the law, more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans were granted healthcare coverage. ACA coverage is funded, in large part, through higher taxes on individuals making over $200,000 and couples making $250,00 in annual income such as the 3.8% investment income tax or .9% payroll tax (Horsley “GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years”).
By contrast, Republicans, through their various repeal-and-replace bills, hoped to redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars by providing large tax cuts to the wealthy. The aforementioned taxes on the upper class that were required for establishment of the ACA would be targeted for repeal. It has been estimated that this would result in cutting around $247 billion collectively, and, by 2020, it would save those making over $1 million in income about $15.9 billion (Drucker. “Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare Repeal Plan”).
In addition to the proposed beneficial tax cuts for those in the upper annual grossing bracket, only approximately 20% of the American population, the repeal-and-replace effort was estimated to cause 23 million Americans to lose their healthcare coverage by 2026 because of impending increases in the cost of insurance rates. For example, people with incomes up to the 150% poverty level who currently pay a $255 a-per month deductible under the Affordable Care Act would face a new deductible price tag of more than $6,000 (Michael “How Many People Will Die from the Republicans’ Obamacare Repeal Bills? Tens of Thousands per Year”). This grossly immense disparity in healthcare payments for the majority of the population would directly result from removing taxes imposed on the affluent. This raises questions about the true aims of the GOP’s various plans to repeal-and-replace Obamacare.
Whereas the Democratic Party tends to “rely more heavily on government intervention to influence the economy’s direction and keep the profit motive of businesses more at bay,” the Republican Party traditionally organizes its economic agenda as a “business friendly” approach that limits government economic regulations and avoids “restrictions that might seek to dimunize the pursuit of profits in favor of… healthcare benefits” (Fuhrmann “Republican and Democratic Approaches to Regulating the Economy”). Thus, Republicans approached their repeal-and-replace proposals from the perspective that the tax cuts not only would directly help the rich but also find their way to the lower classes through what is known as the “Trickle-Down Effect.” “Trickle-Down Economics” is an economic theory that promises economic growth through the practice of providing large benefits and tax breaks to the wealthy in the hopes that the wealth will be distributed down the social class ladder through the creation of new jobs and economic stimulus. When the theory was applied in the early 1960’s and 1980’s, however, those most negatively affected were middle to lower-class workers and small business owners due to their inability to compete with ever-growing corporations that actually hindered money, jobs, and other purported benefits from trickling down. In fact, “Trickle-Down economics” policies only facilitated the increasing gap between the poor and the rich (Wilson “Trickle-Down Theory”).
Wolverton’s political cartoon, “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich,” takes the stance of opposing the desired Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s proposed replacement schemes. The artist’s choice of character, a well-dressed, distinctly wealthy man, represents the wealthiest American’s as a whole. With his champagne and pet, the affluent character has isolated himself on a desert island, a reflection of the separation of the upper and lower-classes in the Unites States. Drinking champagne, an extravagance, he toasts the Republican’s proposed plan to replace the ACA. Through the character’s dialogue, especially the reference to wealth “trickling-down” so that “maybe” other social classes can afford health insurance, Wolverton asserts his opinion that the GOP-led-repeal-and-replace propositions are unfair.
The cartoonist underscores this fundamental unfairness by bolding the “good news” that by “repealing Obamacare” the “tax break” for the “wealthiest Americans” will “trickle down” to the “rest” us so that “then” perhaps we can afford “insurance.” The asterisk mark in Wolverton’s illustration points readers to the evidence: a 2017 report authored by Brandon Debot and published by the Center on Budge and Policy Priorities. In his analysis of the unbalanced tax breaks proposed by the GOP through repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, Debot and the CBPP estimate that the “400 highest-income taxpayers — whose incomes average more than $300 million a year — would get average tax cuts of at least $15 million a year each,” while the benefits for working families are seldom noted; in fact, the likelihood of primarily adverse effects is anticipated (Debot “Trump Tax Plan Would Give 400 Highest-Income Americans More Than $15 Million a Year in Tax Cuts”).
Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich” is reminiscent of the 1933 John Knott cartoon, “Regardless of Dress.” Both comics express concern about the unequal treatment of American citizens, especially inequities in their wealth and well-being, vis-à-vis the pressing economic issues of their respective times—i.e., the Great Recession and the Great Depression. In Wolverton’s case, he approaches the attempted repeal of “Obamacare” with a sarcastic tone. The artist juxtaposes the treatment of the rich and the poor, highlighting repeated attempts to, by, and for the wealthy to undermine ACA legislation aimed to directly assist poor individuals in gaining access to healthcare. Republican repeal-and-replace efforts, by contrast, would only indirectly aid the poor by “trickling down.” For the non-affluent, their access to healthcare would only occur if and when wealth generated from tax cuts for the rich gradually permeated down from the highest to the lowest classes. For his part, Knott also addressed the need for balanced and shared sacrifice as part of the New Deal. His illustration focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Economy Act of 1933, which cut millions of federal dollars from some programs receiving an unbalanced amount of aid in order to more equitably reallocate those funds to other groups in need (Knott “Regardless of Dress”).
“Roosevelt at Chicago,” and editorial that accompanied Knott’s political cartoon in the Dallas Morning News, provided a more in-depth explanation of Knott’s visual commentary on Roosevelt’s legislative actions for equal treatment to all American citizens. A precursory discussion of extreme inequities in wealth allocation in America then and now, the 1933 editorial explained FDR’s call for cutting unequal funding from banks and veterans and redistributing the money to other constituencies in need—a call for fairness that Wolverton echoed decades later (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago,” Knott “Regardless of Dress,” Wolverton “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich”).
Both Wolverton’s and Knott’s cartoons shed light on economic inequality during the most trying economic times of the current and previous centuries. The contemporary comic mocks the GOP’s Trickle-Down economic agenda and its restrictive impact on healthcare access for ordinary Americans while the Depression-era drawing depicts Roosevelt’s direct, bottom-up approach to combating economic suffering and inequality by reallocating monetary assistance and jobs to those most in need. Together, the two illustrations not only highlight how those in power conceptualize wealth and equity but also how legislative policies affect average citizens.
Wolverton’s cartoon evokes humor through the satirism of the GOP’s repeal-and-replace proposal and views of healthcare being voiced in America during 2017. Its importance rings with majority of US citizens due to their social standing and the effect that may have on their access to affordable healthcare in the near future.
Drucker, Jesse. “Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare Repeal Plan.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/business/tax-cuts-affordable-care-act-repeal.html.
Fuhrmann, Ryan C. “Republican and Democratic Approaches to Regulating the Economy.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 18 May 2018, www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/regulating-economy.asp.
Gerard, Leo. “Why the Tea Party Loves Medicare but Hates Obamacare.” Thousands of Garment Factory Workers Across Cambodia Are Fainting on the Job, inthesetimes.com/article/15732/the_tea_partys_misconception_of_medicare.
Hiltzik, Michael. “How Many People Will Die from the Republicans’ Obamacare Repeal Bills? Tens of Thousands per Year.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 26 June 2017, www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-repeal-deaths-20170623-htmlstory.html.
Knott, John. “Regardless of Dress” The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 1933.
Murray, Shailagh, and Lori Montgomery. “House Passes Health-Care Reform Bill without Republican Votes.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Mar. 2010, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/21/AR2010032100943.html.
In 1933, as the United States sought to pull its struggling economy out of the Great Depression, the American people looked for guidance from newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR promised to reform the damaging actions brought on by his predecessor, President Herbert Hoover, and to improve the nation’s economic state. John Knott’s political cartoon, “Regardless of Dress,” addresses one of the many reforms enacted as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal: specifically, the Economy Act of 1933. This act reduced the amount of federal aid given to banking and veteran programs to equalize treatment of struggling American citizens. Evoking parallels to Andrew Jackson’s populist slogan, “equal rights to all, special privileges to none,” Knott’s illustration underscores the importance of Roosevelt’s impact on veterans and the banks through his New Deal economic recovery programs.
The Great Depression was the period from 1929-1939, during which time the American economy took an unprecedented downturn. After the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, the nation’s economic state began a precipitous decline, as consumer spending and investment plummeted. Job scarcity became such a widespread problem that by 1932, the nation’s unemployment rate had risen to 25% (Baughman “The 1930s: Government and Politics: Overview”). Hoover’s spending approach for aiding the effects of the Great Depression was an inclination to give “indirect aid to banks or local public works projects, but he refused to use federal money for direct aid to citizens” (Hoover “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History”). During Hoover’s Presidency, America’s budget deficit ballooned from a $734 million surplus in 1929 to a $2.7 billion deficit in 1932 (Morgan “Deficit Spending”). To compare it to today’s standards, while the 2017 federal government’s deficit rose to $668 billion, an $82 billion increase, that remains only a 12% increase rather than the 663% rise during Hoover’s term (Niv “US Deficit Spending Reached $668 Billion in Fiscal 2017”). Roosevelt’s election in 1932 brought on a series of reforms aimed to counter Hoover’s tactics. In his approach to economic recovery, however, FDR adopted a populist approach for addressing the struggles of the common man.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1932, his actions immediately reflected the populist ideals of assisting ordinary American citizens, and his New Deal economic recovery plans were intended to directly help the American people. The First New Deal was a procession of economic reforms as well as a series of national aid and federal programs created with the purpose of bringing the United States out of the Great Depression; furthermore, these initiatives were promised to be implemented within Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office. Because an entire quarter of the US population was unemployed, these aid programs stretched across a swath of occupational categories and social classes (Baughman “The 1930s: Government and Politics: Overview”).
Programs such as the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), which provided $500 million in grants directly to states to “infuse relief agencies with the much-needed resources to help the nearly fifteen million unemployed,” were aimed at mitigating the subsidiary monetary channels that, in the past, had slowed progress of economic improvement (Lumen Learning “Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1941”).
Given the nation’s poor economic state, however, Roosevelt also aimed to refrain from unnecessary excessive spending. Thus, he introduced the Economy Act of 1933 which cut around $400 million from federal payments to veterans and $100 million from the payroll of federal employees (Morgan “Economy Act of 1933, Special to The New York Times). Not only did this act recognize the unequal distribution of governmental monetary resources, it also helped equalize funding through redistribution to people via Roosevelt’s newly created programs.
Alluding to the spending cuts spurred by the Economy Act of 1933, Knotts’ cartoon highlighted the shared sacrifice that was required for economic recovery, legislated in FDR’s populist policies, and inspired by Jacksonian Democratic themes. The illustration featured three figures: a banker/civilian, a veteran, and FDR. Roosevelt points to a banner hanging above their heads. The sign, which reads, “EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO NONE,” points to the reasoning behind the Economy Act of 1933 and FDR’s populist policies. During the Great Depression most US citizens were in need during those difficult economic times, and while FDR recognized the nation’s responsibility to those who served their country, he also stressed their equality with other citizens (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago”). Drawing on that ideology, Knott suggested Roosevelts’ similarity to another populist president, Andrew Jackson. The quote boldly displayed and pointed to by President Roosevelt reads, “EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO NONE.” It is a famous populist slogan widely attributed to Andrew Jackson.
Jacksonian Democrats not only believed in maintaining a strong Federal Union but also in following the conviction that “no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another,” as well as in maintaining the assurance that “the already wealthy and favored classes would not enrich themselves further by commandeering, enlarging, and then plundering public institutions” (History.com Staff “Jacksonian Democracy” and Gale “Andrew Jackson”). By cutting their previous federal funding allowances, the aid given to veterans and the banking system was equalized by FDR when compared to other assistance programs. His actions were based on his affirmation of equal treatment of citizens and are directly and were comparable to Jackson’s views. Because veterans and banks were receiving significantly more aid compared to other institutions and groups, Roosevelt cut their funding, opening more opportunities for other struggling parties to receive monetary assistance, thus equalizing government aid program fairness (Knott “Regardless of Dress”).
“Roosevelt in Chicago,” an editorial that accompanied Knott’s cartoon, spelled out the aforementioned policies regarding veterans and banks alike and described Roosevelt’s take on the need for equalizing aid (re)distribution. The editorial discussed FDR’s emphasis on “the plain duties of citizenship,” another reference to Roosevelt’s Jacksonian-inspired populist agenda for economic recovery. Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in the dawn of a new American economic era in both its policies and reforms (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago”).
The Great Depression was a devastating period of American history for all US citizens. As the economy struggled, Roosevelt was not only faced with how to bring prosperity to the nation but also how to treat all social classes under his altering reforms. His actions highlighted the repetition of history and the new takes future leaders are able to implement to adjust for the times.
From 1929, when the Agricultural Marketing Act was enacted by President Hoover, through 2008, there was consistent need for agricultural relief. The industry was still receiving massive subsidies from the Federal Government, and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 was similar in purpose and scope to its predecessor around 80 years earlier. The striking similarity between the two was the rampant subsidy abuse that farmers exploited and took advantage of on the brink of economic collapse in the United States.
In this Jimmy Marguiles cartoon, which appeared in New York Newsdayin 2008, there is a farmer awaking and yawning who says “5am…time to feed the chickens, slop the hogs, and milk the taxpayers”. Given the date of the cartoon, it must relate to the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 – known colloquially as “The 2008 Farm Bill”.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 was the sixteenth law in the United States that was referred to as a “farm bill” (Hyder). The 2008 bill, similar in intent to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, was intended to subsidize farmers. The 2008 farm bill had an allocated amount of around $300 billion to cover agricultural related costs. This bill also was specific in that it covered a wide range of fruits and vegetables that had not been covered in previous versions of “Farm Bills” (Hyder).
The Farm Act of 2008 was also instrumental in creating the “Average Crop Revenue Election” program – also known as ACRE. This program provided better protection to farmers than previous programs. It gave the farmers more breathing room with subsidies as it paid out to farmers when they had a loss of revenue that could be directly attributed to crop failure, price fluctuations or other specific causes (Hyder).
Within the ACRE program, farmers may elect to receive revenue-based paments instead of price-based countercyclical payments. One of the other main benefits for those enrolled in ACRE – they had a 20% decrease in direct payments and a 30% decrease in marketing assistance loan rates (Cooper).
The bill had a big snafu in Congress. The bill had passed both houses of the Senate and was sent to President Bush to sign. Bush went ahead and vetoed the bill. However, the bill that Bush had vetoed was missing 30 pages from the Congressional version. As such, Congress had to revote on their bill which, again, passed. When the proper version of the bill reached President Bush’s desk, it was again vetoed. Bush’s veto was to the dismay of environmental and agricultural groups. Hundreds of groups sent formal requests to congress to override the veto, despite their own acknowledgement that the bill itself wasn’t “perfect”. The groups stated that the bill was a “carefully balanced and compromise of policy priorities that has broad support among organizations representing the nation’s agriculture, conservation, and nutrition interests” (Hyder). Eventually, Congress overrode Bush’s veto and the Farm Act of 2008 became law.
Since this bill, just like the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, subsided farmers, there were no shortage of critics. The European Union, for example, cited that the subsidies in the 2008 Farm Bill were a sign of growing American protectionism. They were seemingly in fear of a trade war after the 2007 food price crisis. Likewise, high tariff’s on imports such as sugar can-derived ethanol from Brazil was upsetting to trade partners who were being taxed heavily (Hyder).
The Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum released a report about the 2008 Farm Bill. They specifically note the emergency nature of farm bills from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s to the current farm bills which are “monolithic legislation” of the current versions, including the 2008 Farm Bill. One of the issues that they cite with the 2008 Farm Bill is that it focused more on helping urban farmers for the local economy in those urban areas, especially the rust belt areas, rather than the rural farmers (Mersol-Barg 300).
Because the Farm Bill of 2008 did more to help urban farming, high operational costs in those areas can be considered part of the bills issues. Feasibility studies have shown that a 4.4-acre urban farm with $112,000 in revenue would still result in a loss (Mersol-Barg 287). That is where the government would step in – subsidizing the loss to result in the profit. This would benefit, mainly, only the local economy and not the U.S. economy.
Just as an economic disaster followed the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act, one did with the 2008 Farm Bill as well. The Great Recession of 2008 occurred largely in part to subprime lending and bank failures. The Great Depression and “Black Tuesday” occurred within six months of the 1929 law being passed. The 2008 Farm Bill was passed just four months before the Lehman Brothers and other large banks begin to fall. Though both occurred just months before economic disasters, they were far from the main factor as to why the economy failed.
While a John Knott cartoon “And the Echo Answers: Where!” from 1930 had touched on the need for farm relief that had yet to arrive, this Marguiles cartoon touches on similar problems.
In the Knott cartoon, we see a drowning farmer with wheat and cotton being shown “flooded” by low prices. It is raining heavily, signaling the prices will seemingly decrease and the product demand will suffer even more. The farmer is asking where the relief for farms is because then-President Hoover, Congress and the Farm Board were largely unable to help them. In the 2008 cartoon, perhaps Bush helped them too much to the point of extreme comfort.
At the time that the Knott cartoon was published, the loophole in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 had yet to be fully exploited. That loophole allowed farmers to grow as much as they wanted since the Government would purchase any of the excess crops.
In this 2008 Marguiles cartoon, it is obvious that the farmer subsidies were fully being exploited and therefore agricultural relief was still struggling because of the abuse. The humor in the Marguiles cartoon details the way that the farmers had grown comfortable with the bill. The cap for payment: $750,000. Any farmer making $749,999 or less was eligible to subsidy assistance. So, farmers found loopholes in the law that would allow them to still make a considerable amount of money even if they didn’t really need the money. So, by showing a farmer cozy in bed, it is the same as the farmer being cozy with government existence. They still made money off of their crops and the government stepped in to help fill the “void” in payment.
While nearly 80 years had passed between both laws, neither had worked out for very long. The two cartoons also show a similar pattern: Farm Relief has no easy solution. Throughout the 16 Farm Bills between 1929-2008, there is always need for a new bill to replace the old. The one constant theme, however, is that farmers are taking advantage of Government subsidies to build their wealth while not entirely delivering their end of the deal, though sometimes through no fault of their own.
Cooper, Joseph C. “Average Crop Revenue Election: A Revenue-Based Alternative to Price-Based Commodity Payment Programs.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics, vol. 92, no. 4, 2010, pp. 1214–1228. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40931076.
Marguiles , Jimmy. “Farming the Government .” Newsday, 2008.
Mersol-Barg, Amy E. “Urban Agriculture & the Modern Farm Bill: Cultivating Prosperity in America’s Rust Belt,” Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum vol. 24, no. 1 (Fall 2013): p. 279-314.
Hyder, Joseph P. “Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.” Food: In Context, edited by Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner, vol. 1, Gale, 2011, pp. 316-318. In Context Series. Science In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX1918600101/SCIC?u=txshracd2598&sid=SCIC&xid=380563ce. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.
The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 proved to be detrimental to the American agricultural industry. While the bill began with good intentions to help farmers, abuse soon became rampant and the U.S. Federal Government, specifically the Federal Farm Board, couldn’t keep up with increasing crop production. The 1929 law soon proved to be too much for the Government to handle when it came to subsidizing farmers across the United States.
This cartoon, titled “And Echo Answers: ‘Where!’”, by cartoonist John Knott, first appeared in the Dallas Morning Newson June 26, 1930. The cartoon, which was published during the early months of the infamous Great Depression, was in response to the Federal Farm Board. The Board, which was within the Herbert Hoover administration, was unable to rectify the declining markets for cotton and wheat. The two crops had fallen to a 7-year low just one year after enacting the Farm Bill. When Black Tuesday hit in 1929, the falling stock in cotton and wheat excelled at a rapid pace.
In the cartoon, we see a drowning farmer with “wheat” and “cotton” being “flooded” by low prices. It is raining heavily, signaling that the prices will seemingly decrease and the product demand will suffer even more. The farmer is asking where the relief for farms is because President Hoover, Congress and the Farm Board were largely unable to help them.
That is not to say, however, that President Hoover and Washington DC didn’t try. Several months before the market crashed, Hoover signed the “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929.” The law was meant to address falling prices by allowing the Federal Government to purchase, sell and store excess crops from farmers and lend money to farmers in need. The revolving money allocated, approximately $150,000,000 , was intended to be loaned to farmers for buying seed, food and livestock to help maintain their livelihood should they fall on hard times (Joy).
Hoover didn’t necessarily intend to lend the money to farmers directly as he feared this would create dependence on the government. Instead, the Federal Farm Board lent money to co-operatives. Co-Operatives were established to be groups of farmers who pooled their resources together (Sibley 453).
The law, however, had a large loophole. When stocks were being dumped at alarming rates at the end of 1929 and beginning of 1930, the Federal Farm Board was unable to keep up with production (Sibley 454). Farmers were aware that the law never put in place a stipulation on how much the government would be forced to buy from them. Therefore, with no production limit, farmers overproduced to ensure that they would be paid. Farmers across the country, who still needed to provide for themselves, knew if they couldn’t see their crops privately, the government would still cut them a check. The law was designed specifically for a prosperous economy, not a failing one (Sibley 456).
Foreign trade was also declining across the globe due to the effects of the 1929 Stock Market crash. The government had to deal with the excess production issue domestically. While the government did have the right to sell the crops that they had bought, consumer spending in the United States was also in a steep decline. As well, wheat likely suffered due to Prohibition, the ban on manufacturing and sale of recreational alcohol. Eventually, the Farm Board ran out of money and the program had to be abolished.
One of the other contributing factors to economic decline was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, enacted in 1930. The legislation put forward was an attempt to keep American farmers afloat and decrease foreign trade competitors during the agricultural issues during the end of the 1920’s (Riggs 1219). This tariff raised import taxes by approximately 20 percent and spiraled into an international trade war. This trade war was considered to be one of the leading factors that spiraled America into the Great Depression, all while decreasing trade by 66 percent within a five year period of its enactment (Riggs 1219).
Along with a declining import market, this also lead to declining export from the US agricultural industry. When Smoot-Hawley was actually signed into law, Great Britain, Canada and France – among others – immediately reduced exports. This subsequently negated anticipated gains, sales, revenues and in the end, profits (Beaudreau 300).
The Dust Bowl, which occurred during the mid-late 1930s, was also a problem that came later. It is believed to have been caused by years of low rainfall and unusually high temperatures (Schubert 1856). The combination of the poor farm conditions prior to the Agricultural Marketing Act, the onset of the great depression and the lack of trade caused by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act led to an unimaginable crisis. Farmers likely didn’t expect agricultural economy to get worse than it was in 1929, but it did within less than a decade (Schubert 1856).
The humor element in Knott’s cartoon is evoked using “Where’s farm relief?” which is asked by the farmer who is drowning. As well, the title draws attention for its use of an “echo answer.” An echo answer is when the verb in a question is restated, or echoed, in the response. The Depression era farmers were consistently asking “Where is farm relief?”. For most, there were no answer and the farmers echoed their anger as if to say “Yeah! WHERE is farm relief?”
While farmers were aware of the passage of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, they were seemingly unaware at the massive failure occurring. As recently as 2008, agriculture continues to be a flaw in Government regulation due to overproduction and falling trade. The 16 farm bills that have been passed between 1929 and 2008 are a continued cyclical of an ongoing agricultural problem.
By: David Rubin
Beaudreau, B.C. Int Adv Econ Res (2017) 23: 295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11294-017-9642-z
Joy, Mark S. “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929.” The 1920s in America, edited by Carl Rollyson, Salem, 2012. Salem Online.
McElvaine, Robert S. Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=100381&site=ehost-live.
Schubert, Siegfried D., et al. “On the Cause of the 1930s Dust Bowl.” Science, vol. 303, no. 5665, 2004, pp. 1855–1859. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3836515.
Sibley, Katherine A. S. “The Worsening of the Great Depression.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, NJ, 2014.
“Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2015, p. 1219. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3611000828/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=117ab699. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.
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