Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Freedom of Navigation versus Freedom of the Seas

The President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, is seen pushing the United States’ 44th president Barack Obama back with a croupier stick in order to stop American military involvement in the South China Sea
The President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, is seen pushing the United States’ 44th president Barack Obama back with a croupier stick in order to stop American military involvement in the South China Sea

In Heng Kim Song’s political cartoon “Heng on the South China Sea Dispute” the United States (U.S.) is seemingly infringing upon China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea under the pretext of the current International Law of Freedom of Navigation. The South China Sea (SCS) region has been a zone of conflict for many years after World War II with territorial and jurisdictional disputes. Having multiple nations fighting over potential natural resource deposits, fishing grounds, and strategic control over the waterways and islands make this region very dangerous. Currently, many of the countries in the region are working for peace and resolution. However, the U.S. has been sending military vessels under the pretext of Freedom of Navigation to spy on the islands owned by China due to speculation that the country is building major weaponry and military equipment on the Paracels, Spratlys, Macclesfield Bank, and Pratas groups of islands, threatening U.S. commerce and allied nations. Beijing has issue with the U.S.’s spying and over-extensive interpretation of the Freedom of Navigation agreement leading to tension and negative confrontation. This is also apparent in John Knott’s 1937 cartoon “What Price Freedom of the Seas?” where the U.S.’s interpretation of the ideology: Freedom of the Seas, has led to conflict and opposing opinions from the general public. In 1937, the upkeep of commerce and geo-political control over the seas was very important to the U.S. and they tried to maintain commerce with belligerent nations under the pretext of Freedom of the Seas. The importance of commerce and control is still apparent today in the South China Sea. Although 80 years apart, both cartoons depict the U.S. interpreting the notion that the seas are neutral, differently from other nations and people (whether the notion is an ideology or a law).

An article by Ankit Panda that sheds light on Heng’s cartoon is called “China Reacts Angrily to Latest US South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Operation” from the international news magazine: The Diplomat. The article presents both sides to the dispute. The U.S.’s argument is that “China claims to support freedom of navigation, but discriminates between civilian and military vessels” because they have captured American military vessels and drones in the past. While China’s argument is “Its [the U.S.’s] behavior has violated the Chinese law and relevant international law, infringed upon China’s sovereignty, disrupted peace, security and order of the relevant waters and put in jeopardy the facilities on the Chinese islands, and thus constitutes a serious political and military provocation.” (Panda) This article and other articles like “Protecting Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea” from the Diplomat challenge the U.S. to ratify the UNCLOS before demanding other nations to allow them near their land under the international law.

The UNCLOS is “a comprehensive framework for the regulations of all ocean space” created in the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea between the years 1973 and 1984. The UNCLOS set regulation rules for many different situations including: “…the limits of the territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of individual states; the right of access to the sea, freedom of navigation and other lawful uses of the sea in various maritime zones; exploitation, conservation and management of living resources of the sea; deep sea mining in the area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction; marine scientific research; protection and preservation of the marine environment; and the settlement of disputes.” (Mensah 463) As of today there are 157 signatories (countries that have signed) that include both the U.S. and China. However, the U.S. never ratified this treaty, making China doubt the legitimacy the U.S. has on using this law for its Freedom of Navigation operations in the SCS.

The United States has always believed in having neutral oceanic territory across the globe from the Jefferson Embargo Act of 1807 to today. This “Freedom of the Seas” idea allowed nations to travel across all waterways for commerce, natural resource hunting, and simple passage across the oceans without fear of being attacked by other nations near their waterways. This idea is still extremely important to the U.S. today because of commerce, international business, and natural resource deposits rely heavily on being able to send ships freely through the seas.   However, this was only an idea, mostly reinforced through intimidation from the U.S. and small agreements between allied nations. The introduction of the UNCLOS in 1994 legally set this ideology in international law, changing the idea of “Freedom of the Seas” to “Freedom of Navigation” with many nations signing onto it, ratifying it, and abiding by it. This change gave the U.S. more incentive and protection to spy on China’s current developments on their islands (shared by many allied nations to the U.S. like Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines).

The main region of conflict in the SCS are the many groups of islands often categorized into the Paracels, Spratlys, Macclesfield Bank, and Pratas (these islands are also often simply grouped into either the Paracel islands which are all the islands in the northeast, and the Spratlys islands -northwest). These islands are currently owned by six claimates: Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and China. All of these nations recognize that “the Sea is one of the primary routes for international trade, and many claimants believe that the Sea hides bountiful oil reserves in addition to its plentiful fishing stocks.” (Mirski) However, it wasn’t always this way, in fact, at the end of World War II, no claimate owned a single one of these islands. Ownership of these islands only gained attention a year after the war: “Then, in 1946, China established itself on a few features in the Spratlys, and in early 1947, it also snapped up Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands chain.” (Mirski) But the SCS was still not seen as a priority until 1955 and 1956 where other nations started to claim different portions of these island chains. In the 1970’s claiming these islands became even more urgent to the nations surrounding them because oil was found beneath the waters. This led to invasions and the Battle of the Paracel islands where many Vietnamese were killed by Chinese naval forces. China later invaded more chains in 1988 killing more Vietnamese people. In 1995 China built bunkers above Mischief Reef for protection, causing a dangerous increase of tension between all the claimates.

In response to this rivalry, in 2002 China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN- which included Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos) came together to sign the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS. (Mirski) The declaration was “a code ‘to lay the foundation of long-term stability’ with respect to the territorial dispute.” (Baviera 348) This code’s purpose is to provide stability and peace between all the nations involved in the Sea, but it can only be upkept if all parties act civilly and peacefully. Today the U.S. speculates that China is beginning to show threatening signs of neglecting this code with the numerous sightings of increased militarization on these islands, threatening the friendly nations and U.S. commerce. (McLaughlin)

The reason for U.S. involvement in the Sea (other than for maintenance of free trade) is due to satellite images taken in 2015 revealing increased militarization on Chinese man-made islands. These man-made islands have been on the news since 2015: “China has begun secretly constructing a military airstrip on a man-made island in the South China Sea, provoking alarm among countries in the region already fearful of its increasingly aggressive actions. Satellite images released by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington show that Chinese workers have constructed a third of a runway, eventually expected to be almost two miles long, on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.” (Coghlan) The speculation around these islands is that they will be vital landing pads and pubs for military ships and planes as China wards off other claimates or eventually decides to invade the other islands. More images were captured later by drones, satellite, and planes throughout 2016, confirming American speculation. Beijing has had a number of these drones seized due to a violation on their Freedom of Navigation interpretation, making the U.S. want to send even more drones due to this need for secrecy.

The cartoon itself shows two main characters: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping who represent the leadership of the United States and the Republic of China at the time this cartoon was published. They are depicted standing at a sand table with models of jets, missiles, flags, and military vessels often used to coordinate war strategies. As Obama moves a jet towards where the Chinese arrows point, Xi Jinping pushes Obama back with a croupier stick while exclaiming “Beat it!” This cartoon depicts the conflicts going in the SCS on a smaller scale being just between Barack Obama and Xi Linping in a small room, around a sand table. The sand table is often used in war strategies, and this depiction in the cartoon shows the geo-political “game” these two leaders are playing. The consequences of this political game can be detrimental. The cartoon’s small-scale depiction and inclusion of toy planes and ships may also have a different meaning… Both nations think the other’s interpretation of the law is faulty, but not many things have been done to resolve the conflict, similar to arguments made by children on a playground. The model planes, ships, and the phrase “Beat it!” make Xi Linping look like a school bully on a playground, shooing away another kid wanting to play with the jets. Knowing the true magnitude of the actual conflict makes this interpretation seem a bit out there, but it may be Heng criticizing the actions made by both leaders that led to no resolution.

Behind Obama is a door with the word “Asia” written on it, suggesting that the rest of Asia may be metaphorically “behind closed doors” in this conflict because of how much more powerful both the U.S. and China are than the other Asian nations involved in this ordeal. Although much of the other claimates in this conflict are geographically much closer to China than the U.S., they are allowing the U.S. to continue getting involved in the SCS for personal interest. Barack Obama in this cartoon is in-front of the door that says Asia, representing the other countries and standing at the frontline against China. Many of these smaller nations depend of the U.S. for its umbrella of defense. Xi Linping pushing Obama back with a stick instead of a serious weapon also shows that the conflict for now is somewhat peaceful for the time being.

The U.S. involvement in the South China Sea is heavily based on the maintenance of international trade. The U.S. is taking actions that respect its interpretation of Freedom of Navigation, but so is China. As of today, there is no concrete resolution between these two interpretations, all the while the tensions keep rising. This is also apparent in John Knott’s cartoon where different groups of people and belligerent nations interpreted the ideology of Freedom of the Seas differently. In the Knott cartoon belligerent nations violated the ideology and it pushed America into the war, as many citizens predicted. Currently both China and the U.S. think the other is violating the law, and this is only leading to confrontation and conflict. The parallels of these instances that are 80 years apart are staggering, but hopefully this time the U.S. will not repeat history, and not enter a World War for a third time.


Works Cited

Baviera, Aileen S.P. “The South China Sea Disputes After the 2002 Declaration: Beyond Confidence-Building.” ASEAN-China RelationsRealities and Prospects, edited by Saw Swee-Hock, et al., Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005, pp. [344]-355. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX2837300032&it=r&asid=e9e67811e01e9584838b665834463004. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.

Coghlan, Tom. “Satellite images show China’s secret island airstrip” Times, The (United Kingdom) news edition 2, EBSCO Industries Inc. 18 April 2015. Web. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=15&sid=51104f6e-5a1f-4bb5-ab34-b2092f0fe181%40sessionmgr4010&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=7EH98423036&db=nfh

Gates, Douglas. “Protecting Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea.” The Diplomat. 28 May 2015. Web. 12 November 2017. https://thediplomat.com/2015/05/protecting-freedom-of-navigation-in-the-south-china-sea/

Heng Kim Song. “Heng on the South China Sea Dispute.” New York Times. print.  22 February 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/opinion/cartoon-heng-on-the-south-china-sea-dispute.html

McLaughlin, Elizabeth. “What you need to know about tensions in the South China Sea.” ABC News. 17 March 2017. Web. 12 November 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/International/tensions-south-china-sea/story?id=44306506

Mensah, Thomas A. “UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).” Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, edited by Ted Munn, et al., vol. 4: Responding To Global Environmental Change, Wiley, 2002, pp. 462-463. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3438400799&it=r&asid=f5dd4bf07e13cb536216649f578665f6. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.

Mirsky, Sean. “The South China Sea Dispute: A Brief History.” Lawfare. Publ. by the Lawfare Institute in Cooperation With Brookings. 8 June 2015. Web. https://www.lawfareblog.com/south-china-sea-dispute-brief-history

Panda, Ankit. “China Reacts Angrily to Latest US South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Operation.” The Diplomat. 4 July 2017. Web.  3 November 2017. https://thediplomat.com/2017/07/china-reacts-angrily-to-latest-us-south-china-sea-freedom-of-navigation-operation/

Vacancy Cycle

An elephant representing the Grand Old Party (GOP) refuses to confirm Supreme Court vacancies until a Republican president is elected.


The conflict of “separation of powers” is one that exists epically in American history. Generations of Americans have witnessed the battle of the Supreme Court to maintain its position as a non-partisan institution: fighting off threats from other branches of government to influence it with politics. One example occurred in 1937, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt unsuccessfully proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Act of 1937 to implant support for his legislation into the courts. The Supreme Court maintained its position, and the resulting conflict was documented by the press, such as in a cartoon by John Knott and in an editorial appearing in the Dallas Morning News. Another confrontation in more recent memory was between a Republican controlled United States Senate and President Barack Ob ama over the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacancy left by Justice’s Antonin Scalia’s sudden death in February of 2016. The refusal of the Senate to hold even a hearing for Merrick Garland, a nominee who had broad bi-partisan support, resulted in a similar anticipation of disaster and destruction of convention by the press. Particularly, the threat of a problematic cycle which would undermine the political institution in which the average Supreme Court Justice confirmation took 25 days (“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices”) was satirized in the same way be the respective medias of each time, as explored through a Mike Luckovich cartoon and a Politco article describing the tension in attempting to secure the Supreme Court vacancy.

In the final months of Barack Obama’s second term as president, he tried to secure a Supreme Court nomination to fill the seat left behind by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. However, due to a political interest in nominating a Supreme Court Justice who would represent the values of the GOP rather than Obama’s Democratic party, the Senate refused to approve the nominations proposed by Obama. Historically, the Supreme Court has had a reputation of high esteem in the public view, as it has the final say of the law and the Justice holds their position until they either retire or die. The conflict of failing to secure a nomination to fill the vacancy created anxiety amongst the American public and press, as this sort of political pandering over something as pure as the Supreme Court was seemingly unprecedented.

This anxiety is illustrated in a March 11, 2016 cartoon by Mike Luckovich called “The Court”. The two-panel cartoon depicts the strategy led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and the Republican controlled Senate at the time. In the first panel, an elephant wearing a suit, which represents the GOP, states “I’ll ignore the Constitution and block filling the Supreme Court vacancies until there’s a GOP President…” The second panel of the cartoon shows the same elephant standing in a court room, and the bench labeled “Supreme Court”, is completely vacant with spider webs between the vacant seats. The calendar on the wall has the year “2036”, on it, and the elephant has his finger’s crossed and eyes closed, saying “…C’mon 2040…”. The cobwebs also suggest that this stubbornness will inhibit the nomination of not only the vacancy that existed in 2016, but all other vacancies which would eventually present themselves over the course of 20 years. The cartoon therefore suggests that the refusal of the Senate to confirm a nomination in 2016 would continue into 2036 and onwards until a GOP president is elected to nominate a viable judge.

This viewpoint is also articulated in a Politco article from March 29, 2016 called “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario”. In it, Richard Primus describes the threat of a devolution of political convention with the stagnancy of filling the Supreme Court vacancy. He states:

“That bigger threat is this: The stalemate isn’t time-limited and it isn’t stable. It could last a lot longer than the present election cycle, and if it does, the conflict over Justice Scalia’s successor could escalate far beyond its current dimensions. This is because the Supreme Court’s role in American government rests on a set of conventions for avoiding all-out political conflict—and once those conventions start to crumble, there’s no way to tell how it will end,” (Primus).

Specifically, a nightmare scenario would in theory be possible, though not necessarily probable, where the Republican Senate would continue to refuse to confirm a Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton if she ario does not occur exactly, the threat of the destruction of political conventions by escalating a conflict in attempting to control the courts is made visible both by the article and the cartoon.

There are some interesting parallels between FDR’s attempt to expand the number of nominations possible to be made and the Republican Senate’s attempt to wait for a Republican nomination in that both were efforts to control the political leanings of the Supreme Court. Specifically, both the Luckovich and Knott cartoons satirized a very immediate and visible result of the respective breaches in power. While the Knott cartoon emphasized that the expansion of FDR’s power would manifest itself through unprecedented third term ambitions, the Luckovich cartoon suggests an eternal vacancy in the Supreme Court due to the stubbornness of a GOP Senate. The most important difference between the two cartoons, however, is the accuracy of their respective predictions. FDR did end up running for and winning a third term, but the GOP did not have to wait until past 2036 for a Republican president: Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

The difference between the Dallas Morning News editorial and the Politico article is the opposite of what occurred between the two cartoons. The 2016 article was a better descriptor of long term implications of the Senate refusal to confirm a Supreme Court vacancy than the editorial was in articulating the long-term implications of “The Judicial Procedures Reforms Bill of 1937”. The editorial suggested that the bill represented a descent into totalitarianism, and today it is known that FDR’s passage of the New Deal did not totally undermine American democracy. However, the observation that the GOP Senate’s behavior represented an escalation which would manifest into the issues of checks and balances beyond 2016 was more accurate. The failure to confirm a Supreme Court Justice nomination did leave only 8 Justices, allowing for 4-4 deadlock votes to occur. For example, the deadlocked vote for United States v. Texas, No. 15-674 allowed for Obama’s executive order to retain over 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to stand without official support from the Supreme Court (“Supreme Court Justice”).

The fact that it took about four months to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch galvanized the infamy of the Senate’s actions in 2016 to hold the Supreme Court seat open for record breaking amount of time (Berenson 2017). The disruption caused by the actions by the Senate alluded to the abilities for political branches to manipulate the processes of the Supreme Court. Unlike the historians who observe FDR’s actions in 1937, contemporaries can only wait to understand the full contribution to political procedures the Supreme Court vacancy of 2016 had to the American separation of powers.

Works Cited

Berenson, Tessa. “Neil Gorsuch Confirmed: How His Nomination Changed Politics.” Time, Time, 7 Apr. 2017, time.com/4730746/neil-gorsuch-confirmed-supreme-court-year/.

“How Scalia Compared With Other Justices.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2016, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/13/us/how-long-does-it-take-to-confirm-a-supreme-court-nominee.html.

Primus, Richard. “The Supreme Court: The Nightmare Scenario.” POLITICO Magazine, 29 Mar. 2016, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/the-supreme-court-the-nightmare-scenario-213776.

“Supreme Court Justice.” American Law Yearbook 2016A Guide to the Year’s Major Legal Cases and Developments, Gale, 2017, pp. 208-212. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3633800087&it=r&asid=2c6733a6ed017fe3cf7720b2457fb9fc. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017.

Five Year Anniversary

Nate Beeler's cartoon depicts the 5th anniversary since the Stimulus Package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was signed into legislation, and how the act was a waste of money.
Nate Beeler’s cartoon depicts the 5th anniversary since the Stimulus Package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was signed into legislation, and how the act was a waste of money.

In the political cartoon “Five Year Anniversary,” by Nate Beeler, five stacks of one hundred dollar bills are set on fire on top of a cake that reads “2009 Stimulus.” The five candles represent the Stimulus Package’s, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, five years of age upon being signed into legislation by Barack Obama in 2009. Beeler’s cartoon depicts the idea that the ARRA wasted money rather than pushing the economy out of the Great Recession.

In December 2007, the United States experienced a time of rising unemployment and declining GDP (gross domestic product) that lasted until 2009. This period was dubbed the Great Recession due to the severity of the negative impacts. The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as a “period of at least two consecutive quarters of declining levels of economic activity” (Krabbenhoft), and during the time span between 2007 and 2009 GDP decreased by 3.5 percent and the unemployment rate increased more than 5 percent. The gross domestic product indicates the total value of goods and services produced over a period of time, so production and consumer spending decreased drastically. The government attempted to alleviate the unemployment rate and increase economic growth by creating what’s known as a multiplier effect. The multiplier effect occurs when there is an increase in final income from the increase in spending from the initial stimulus. Consumer expenditures make up 70 percent of GDP, and increasing consumer expenditures would create this effect, for consumption leads to the selling of goods and so on. Business investments are also a main component of GDP, and providing business incentives to increase the level of investment was also critical to alleviating the economy. With these two conditions kept in mind, President Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 into legislation. The ESA consisted of 3 provisions: the first provision provided a tax rebate for taxpayers while the second and third provided tax incentives to businesses to stimulate business investment. Unfortunately, consumer spending did not increase as the government hoped it would. Many households preferred to keep their money in their savings rather than spend it or pay their debts; thus, the multiplier effect did not take off. The tax incentives for businesses were also ineffective because the success was minimal and did not improve the economy; therefore, the ESA was failed, but it inspired a new act that was created by the next president, Barack Obama.

After becoming president, Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into legislation. The ARRA allowed people to keep a larger segment of their paychecks, provided tax credits for homebuyers, college expenses, and home improvements. Essentially, people got more than a single rebate and had more of an incentive to increase consumer spending. The ARRA also provided money for the government to improve health care, education, and infrastructure in order to create more jobs for the public and decrease the unemployment rate. Despite these efforts, the economy continued declining; however, GDP increased slightly during the third quarter of 2009 and fourth quarter of 2013, but unemployment continued to increase. Although the ARRA played on the idea of the multiplier effect, it did not work because people either lost hope during the recession and stopped looking for jobs or used their money in ways the government didn’t intend. The ARRA had good intentions, but nothing occurred the way the government believed or wanted it to happen. This relates to John Knott’s cartoon, “What’s the Next Play Going to Be?” because of the naive thought that people would comply with what higher officials wanted them to do; in the end, people spent money the way they wanted to spend it or stopped trying to find a job whenever hope was lost. It is difficult to bring an economy out of a recession or decrease the unemployment rate immediately, and it takes time for such drastic changes to occur because people do not have unanimous opinions. Ultimately, the ARRA failed just as the NRA had due to the difficulty in governing people’s actions. The failure of the ARRA  and the NRA also expressed the theme that assuming what an entire nation of people would do is naive because people do not act or think similarly, and it is not safe to predict how millions of people would behave, especially during a crisis.

The irony behind the cartoon lies behind the fact that the anniversary of the Stimulus Package was being celebrated despite how negatively people viewed it. It is celebrated because the White House believed the ARRA was good for the economy, but many others thought otherwise as indicated by the burning money. Beeler’s cartoon depicts both standpoints, but the main focus is on how disfavored the ARRA was as shown by making the burning bills the focal point of the cartoon. 

Nate Beeler’s political cartoon “Five Year Anniversary,” stresses how much of a fail the ARRA was due to the amount of money it dissipated. Many efforts were put in to save the economy, but the government did not consider the fact that some households or businesses wouldn’t comply with their intentions. The government was unable to dictate the people’s actions, ultimately leading to the collapse of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


Krabbenhoft, Alan G. “Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.” Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 3rd ed., vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2014, pp. 234-236. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.

Supreme Court Upholds ObamaCare

Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”.
Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”.

The political cartoon, Supreme Court Upholds ObamaCare, by Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News published on June 29th, 2015, depicts two men rushing an injured and well-dressed elephant in a suit to an ambulance labeled “OBAMA CARE”. One of the men can be seen to be carrying a gavel and wearing a robe, indicating he is a judge. The latter is seen wearing a suit and tie and can easily be identified as the current president at the time the cartoon was published, President Barack Obama. The judge in this scenario is a cartoon representation of the Chief of Justice of the time, John Roberts. The unconscious elephant being carried in the stretcher is representative of the Republican party, as the elephant is the symbol most associated with the Republicans. Wilkinson’s cartoon demonstrates the struggles ObamaCare faced against the Republican Party and the eventual defeat the Republicans experienced once the Act was ruled constitutional on more than one occasion despite the Republican Party’s efforts to repeal it at its inception.

The question of whether the United States should have a universal health-care system can be traced back to Harry S. Truman’s presidency in the mid 1940s. Truman proposed the idea of a universal healthcare system as he felt that it was an aspect that was not covered by the previous president, Franklin D Roosevelt, in his progressive New Deal legislation (Taylor). It was reintroduced in the early twentieth century and was revisited in the early 1990s during Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Claiming that it was one of his greatest goals, Clinton worked towards a health-care system, but was unable to obtain sufficient support to do so in his years as president. However, in the late 2000s, President Barack Obama built his presidential campaign to feature a health-care reform as its top priority. Elected as president in 2008 at a time when Democrats “controlled both houses of Congress,” Obama was successful at being able to gather the support needed in order to pass a health-care reform (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”).

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare, was drafted with the purpose of providing Americans with better healthcare opportunities. Complete with a “Patient Bill of Rights,” the Affordable Care Act works to protect patients from mistreatment at the hands of insurance companies. According to the Act, insurance companies can no longer deny a patient coverage due to preexisting conditions. Additionally, patients are now given the right to protest and request to appeal a coverage decision made by an insurance company if the patient believes it to be unjust. In order to make healthcare more accessible to the American public, a government website, Healthcare.gov, was made in 2014 to allow people to browse and pick from different insurance plans coverages that would be accommodating to their needs and income. With the implementation of these sections of ObamaCare, the Obama Administration and Democrats alike hoped to bring affordable healthcare coverage to those that were in need and could not afford it beforehand (“Affordable Care Act”).

Although the Democratic Party held more seats in Congress than the Republicans, they were met with strict opposition from Republicans, who agreed a health-care reform was necessary as the Republican candidate who ran against Obama in 2008, John McCain, also ran a campaign with a focus on health-care reform, but disagreed with Obama’s Affordable Care Act. There was much debate between the two parties as they could not reach an agreement when Obama called for the Democrats to unite and pass the law quickly. The debate in the Senate was so extreme they met on Christmas Eve in efforts to pass the bill for the first time since 1895 (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). Obama successfully signed the Act as public law in March of 2010. However, the Republicans refused to admit defeat.

As soon as the act was passed, Republicans vowed to repeal it. Organizations and citizens called for the Supreme Court to review it, as they challenged the constitutionality of the act. The Court agreed to review the Act in 2011 and ruled most of the Act constitutional except for a provision that called for Medicare expansion (“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). In the following years up to 2016, ObamaCare was revised and saw over fifty repeal attempts by the house and the senate before it was taken to the Supreme Court for the last time in 2015 in the King v. Burwell case (“Supreme Court ObamaCare”). However, according to an msnbc article written by Steve Benen, the case saw even more attempts after the King v. Burwell case and saw upwards of 60 repeal attempts by February of 2016.

The Chief of the Justice, John Roberts, was the one to deliver the 6 to 3 decision of the Court on June 25th, 2015. Roberts “soberly” revealed that he was with the majority opinion in ruling the case constitutional (Vogue and Diamond). Roberts’ siding with the liberal wing of the court and swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy surprised and angered conservatives for a second time since the first case in 2011 as he was a justice who was known for his conservative views as he was appointed to the Court by Republican President George W. Bush following the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2003 before becoming the Chief of Justice in 2005. Roberts had supported the constitutionality of ObamaCare the times it reached the Supreme Court, which angered most Republicans that sided with him on most issues (“John Roberts Biography”). This is ultimately what Wilkinson is poking fun at in his political cartoon as President Obama and John Roberts rush the Republican Party elephant into an ambulance labeled ObamaCare.

The opposition the Obama Administration met in their efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act can be compared to the opposition Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was up against when he fought to pass his New Deal legislations in an effort to mobilize the U.S. economy after The Great Depression of the 1930s. When Roosevelt took office in 1933, his administration spared no time in beginning to draft and implement laws that would benefit the economy. However, a great portion of Roosevelt’s New Deal was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on multiple occasions. FDR struggled to find ways to get the government involved in ways that were constitutional in the Court’s eyes, and was a battle he fought throughout his entire presidency. At one point, Roosevelt even tried to change the rules and regulations surrounding the tenure given to justices. The central idea around democracy is the existence and allowance for checks and balances between the different branches of government, ensuring that the constitution is upheld, but can also be a cause for conflict as it was in these two situations.

The injured elephant in Wilkinson’s cartoon represents the Republican Party’s failed attempts at striking down the Act, and the sense of betrayal Republicans felt in hearing Roberts’ verdict. Wilkinson’s mockery of the situation is extended through the use of irony in the cartoon as the Republican elephant is seen being carried into the ambulance that represents the exact Act they fought against incessantly in the years since its inception. Ultimately, the political cartoon is a satirical representation of the struggles experienced on both sides of the ACA battle of the late 2000s and early 2010s.

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