Through the history of politics, borders have always been a question up for debate. Man-made political boundaries have been a cause of strife for millennia, and the battles for who gets to draw those lines on maps may likely never end. More recently, borders, representative democracies, and their intrinsic ties to the political process have turned these permeable lines into constitutional weapons. In the 1930s, a debate arose over manipulation of borders—not to change trade or migration or money—but to shift the balance of power in the United States by splitting up the Lone Star State. Then US Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner, attempted to use a nearly 100-year-old law to legally divide Texas into five different states.
House-Speaker John Garner was a Texas-born lawyer who lived from 1868–1967. A Democrat, he served fifteen terms in the United States House of Representatives until 1933, when he was elected Vice-President to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Patenaude). Due to his warm relations with Congress, acquired in his tenure as a legislator, Garner was vital in passing Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms (Patenaude). Before his ascension to the Vice-Presidency, however, Garner proposed some controversial ideas. “Can He Sell the Old Man,” the comic by John Knott, and “Texas One and Indivisible,” the accompanying editorial, both published in The Dallas Morning News in 1932, reference a proposed option by national House Democrats to divide Texas into five separate states. Garner is depicted in the comic holding a map of the Lone Star State and “selling” the plan to “Old Man Texas,” Knott’s “most famous character” embodying the rural Texan’s ideals of honesty in government. (Perez).
Over the years, there have been many attempts to split Texas into multiple states. Of course, none of these plans ever came to fruition. To create a legal justification, all proposed divisions have used the original Texas annexation as signed by the United States in 1845. A compromise between slave-states and free-states, “The Joint-Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States,” declares plainly that Texas may be divided into five individual states (United States Congress) to balance the number of slave and free states as needed. Even when slavery was banned in the United States and the number of free and slave states no longer had implication for the makeup of the Senate, the law remained on the books as a legal justification for dividing Texas.
John Garner’s first attempt to quintisect the state in 1921 was boisterous but unsuccessful as he had no clout. As Speaker of the House, however, Garner’s 1931 attempt to divide Texas had far more momentum. Contemporary sources identify a passionate and frustrated attitude taken on Garner’s part. His stated reason for his proposal was to “transfer the balance of political power from New England to the south” and “restore the prestige” of the southern states (Jacobs). Garner approached the rebalancing of Senate representation as a response to perceived attacks by powerful, regional political hegemons—particularly the North-Eastern United States and their unified interests.
This vengeance for Texas and the South tainted how the public viewed Garner’s ideas. John Knott’s comic exemplifies how Garner’s plan was received. From the outside of a barbed-wire fence, the artist pits the stocky Garner as a solicitor trying to convince “Old-Man Texas” of the Speaker’s grand plan. Garner comes across as smarmy—as if this is a back-alley deal to be cast with Texas joining the Democrats in a big score of federal voting power. “More senators on fewer acres,” he says, pointing to his map of Texas. “Old-Man Texas” appears to be humoring the Speaker, with a nonchalance that reflects an attitude of dismissal. That attitude is further elaborated in the accompanying editorial.
Garner’s goal was to increase Democratic representation in the US Senate (Jacobs). A divided Texas would have five times the amount of control in the Senate, with the majority of the new seats likely going to Garner’s party. Thus, his plan would have created a new regional bloc to compete with the North-Eastern states.
The editorial, “Texas One and Indivisible,” warned of competing regional interests in the United States—singling out the contemporary example of the East Coast’s homogeneity and how it was used as a voting bloc in the Senate. While Garner would have certainly agreed with a Southern bloc, The Dallas Morning News was not at all supportive of the idea of separating of Texas at all. Adding more regional blocks, it was argued, would only create more “petty states” with “overrepresentation in the Senate” (Dallas Morning News). In addition, the newspaper condemned the expensive construction of four additional legislative buildings and the costly redundancies of tax dollars going to prop-up four more governorships (Dallas Morning News).
The power of borders is unmistakable. Texan history has always had difficulties with the manipulation of how governments draw lines on the map. Legal gerrymandering lives on today in the Texas legislatures and has been a tactic for amassing power for political parties, much like John Garner’s schemes in the twenties and thirties. For example, the recent 2003 State redistricting was rife with protest and court cases. To date, dividing Texas into five states has never been realized, but other measures to remap the political landscape and consolidate political power in the Lone Star State have been successful.
The political cartoon “What Price Freedom of the Seas” by John Knott illustrates the struggle between the general public and politicians in the United States (U.S.) during the years preceding World War II. Opposing interpretations of the ideology: Freedom of the Seas, caused much debate between people who were against the war, but for commerce, and people who were against both. In the U.S.’s best interest to stay out of the war, Neutrality Acts were passed which allowed U.S. ships to be neutral against belligerent nations, and continue trade with both allied and hostile nations alike under the ideology: Freedom of the Seas. Many of the people in the Senate were Isolationists (people who were against any foreign contact/conflict) including Hiram Johnson who also was an advocate for free trade. The accompanying editorial to the cartoon, “Senate Neutrality Bill” brings in the differing viewpoints on the issue of Freedom of the seas. People recognized that the ideology was crucial for trade and geo-political control over the seas for the U.S., but the continuation of embargos was highly disputed especially after WWI where hostile nations attacked neutral American ships aiding Britain. The editorial compared the leadership during 1937 under Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to a past president’s ideology with foreign nations: “Speak softly and carry a big stick” -Theodore Roosevelt. This ideology and later policy meant negotiating peacefully with foreign nations while simultaneously intimidating them with a big stick (military power).(Big Stick Diplomacy 132) This comparison is critical of FDR’s decision to continue trade while intimidating opposing forces with a “big-stick” as “a more timorous leader would stop trade at once in order to avoid trouble-making incidents” (Dallas Morning News) The different interpretations of the ideology “Freedom of the Seas” led to contradictory actions, unsuccessful neutrality acts, and an eventual entrance into the war just four years after Knott’s cartoon was published.
Knott’s 1937 cartoon depicts only two characters: Hiram Johnson and Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam holds a piece of paper tallying the number of wounded and killed during World War I and the amount of debt accrued to the United States (U.S.) after the war ended. He has a disappointed expression on his face as he sadly puts his hand on Hiram Johnson’s shoulder who raises his fist and exclaims: “I believe that a nation’s commerce is its lifeblood and that we should insist upon our rights under International Law!” In Johnson’s hand he strongly holds onto a poster with the words “Freedom of the Seas” written on the side.
Hiram Johnson was a Republican U.S. senator in California from the years 1917 to 1945. Although Johnson took progressive positions in domestic affairs, he was an isolationist – strictly against getting involved in foreign affairs. He was against signing the Treaty of Versailles, and joining the League of Nations under Woodrow Wilson, but he helped endorse FDR’s New Deal. He was a big name and had a big voice in the isolationist movement. He was one of the few progressive republicans who was in favor of FDR, so when he chose to be in favor of the Neutrality Acts, he had much influence due to being favored by both Democrats and Republicans. FDR originally opposed the Neutrality legislation, but eventually approved the acts because of both parties agreeing, and his re-election on the horizon. Johnson tried to stay out of foreign conflict until the end of his career: “Although Johnson had been an outstanding Progressive governor, by the time of his death on Aug. 6, 1945, his views on foreign affairs made him part of an outdated isolationist minority in Congress.” (Hiram Warren Johnson 300) As a stylistic choice, Hiram Johnson was drawn heavier in the political cartoon. This portrayed the greediness of his statement in the cartoon to continue free trade while many citizens strongly predicted it would lead to war.
The U.S. firmly believed in having neutral waterways for commerce to continue, this protection in the seas is rooted in the ideology of “Freedom of the Seas.” In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while many countries were being colonized, some nations also wanted control of the seas surrounding their land. They enforced their power with naval force and bases at canals. (Rappaport 111) However, many of these nations believed the seas to be free like air: “Queen Elizabeth I of England proclaimed: ‘The use of the sea and air is common to all; neither can any title to the ocean belong to any people or private nation fought for free water travel, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, who enacted the Jefferson Embargo Act of 1803 (mentioned in the editorial as a parallel to the need for free water travel and commerce in 1937). The Embargo Act prohibited U.S. ships from going into foreign ports. This was to compel French and English ships from interfering with American merchant ships while they were in the Napoleonic Wars (a war over French expansion). This act eventually backfired and negatively impacted the U.S. economy until it was repealed. (Embargo Act (1807) 379) Freedom of the Seas was declared by London in 1908 as an unofficial agreement with allied and enemy nations, but no belligerent nations ratified it thus not binding them to it during World War I. “Upon the outbreak of war the United States called for a de facto observation of the Declaration of London.” (Young) The ideology was never set in international law except for small treaties between allied nations. As years went on this ideology was disputed in many nations, the U.S. being extremely for it, especially Hiram Johnson who used this ideology to continue to trade while war went on. It’s very contradictory that he was an isolationist that wanted to continue foreign trade at the cost of inevitably entering war.
Uncle Sam holds a sign with the debt owed to the U.S. after World War I and the number of American soldiers killed or wounded during the war. (Schuker 542) The expression on Uncle Sam’s face symbolizes the disappointment much of the public had in the Senate’s interpretation of Freedom of the Seas. Many people in both the general public, and in political chairs wanted to avoid war at all costs, as the war only 20 years prior to this cartoon was World War I, which was detrimental to the U.S. as a whole. Although many politicians knew about how devastating the past war was, they continued to push for free trade, which many people disagreed with as that would most likely lead to war. Due to there being no international law for free trade, and America simply enforcing it with a “big-stick” initiative, it was only a matter of time before hostile nations attacked U.S. ships bringing resources to friendly nations. This violation of the ideology would most likely bring the U.S. into the war. Robert Lansing, (Legal Advisor to the State Department at the beginning of World War I and later the Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson) compared the neutrality of 1937 to the neutrality of 1915 (World War I) due to the U.S. establishing itself as a neutral power, but eventually being brought into both wars because of belligerent nation violation of free waterways. (Lansing)
After World War I, the need to stay out of war in 1937 expanded into the Isolationist viewpoint (originated in 1934 in the Nye Committee). The main idea of Isolationism was avoiding alliances and conflict with all foreign nations completely. In 1934, there was speculation that the entrance into the World War I was for profit instead of good ethics. Created by the U.S. Senate, this committee investigated business leaders who were suspected of manufacturing supplies and trading with belligerent nations. “Committee members found little hard evidence of an active conspiracy among arms makers, yet the panel’s reports did little to weaken the popular prejudice against “greedy munitions interests.” (Schlesinger) This viewpoint was driven by Hiram Johnson in 1937, however his drive for free trade with belligerent and allied nations contradicted part of the Isolationist viewpoint, confounding the original ideology.
The Neutrality Acts, passed between 1935 and 1939, were the main catalysts of the cartoon and editorial because they allowed trade to continue between the U.S. and hostile nations. Congress passed four acts that limited American involvement in the ongoing war on the Seas and in Europe (Delaney 66). “[The Neutrality Act of 1935] banned all arms and ammunition shipments to belligerent nations and placed America’s armaments industry under federal control for six months.” (Delaney 66) As the four acts came out they edited the previous acts, usually strengthening them. The 1937 act had a “cash-and-carry” provision, allowing the U.S. to supply belligerent countries resources if they paid in cash and guaranteed that the U.S. would not become 9 (the same year the U.S. declared war). The Neutrality Acts were passed to keep the U.S. out of the war, but the inclusion of enforcing free trade with these acts ultimately made them unsuccessful as belligerent nations infringed upon the notion of “Freedom of the Seas” and attacked vessels sent to friendly nations.
The editorial “Senate Neutrality Bill” expressed the differing viewpoints groups of people at the time. The two options debated by citizens were: to completely end trade “… a more timorous leader would stop trade at once to avoid trouble-making incidents.” (Senate Neutrality Bill) While the other option was to continue the embargos under the Neutrality Acts because commerce and geo-political control in the seas was the lifeblood of the nation. Citizens, knew that free trade was vital, but they predicted it would lead to conflict “Yet embargoes create an international antagonism that may form the prelude to conflict.” Isolationists wanted nothing to do with any foreign nation. Hiram Johnson wanted free trade under the pretext of Freedom of the Seas, but he did not want to enter a war. The ultimate decisions made by FDR and the Senate couldn’t satisfy all of these viewpoints and this angered many people. Articles were written by regular citizens calling out the acts for not giving the citizens a choice and calling the neutrality a “compound of ignorance, timidity, and ignorant isolationism.” (Peace act). Although many of these people interpreted Freedom of the Seas differently, the ideal outcome as stated in the editorial, would be peace.
“What Price Freedom of the Seas” by John Knott illustrates how Hiram Johnson believed that through the Ideology of Freedom of the Seas and the upkeep of its principles through force or a “big stick” America should’ve been allowed to continue free trade with any nation. This greed made him blind to the possibility of conflict happening due to this continued trade, as it had happened before in 1807. Many citizens and politicians recognized the problem of continuing trade especially after the tragedies of World War I “We have grown older: we have burnt our fingers in war: we would like to keep the peace.” (Senate Neutrality Bill) The actual decisions made in the Senate eventually led to the U.S. entrance into World War II. The idea of Freedom of the Seas has been debated since ships were able to travel across the oceans. Many regions around the globe have had treaties signed to ensure power over their portion of the ocean while other nations pushed for complete neutrality of the seas (U.S. being one of these nations). Today, 57 years after the cartoon was published, Freedom of the Seas is set in international law: Freedom of Navigation, but the differing interpretations still exist, which may lead to miscommunication and conflict.
“Big Stick Diplomacy.” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2015, pp. 132-133. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3611000096&it=r&asid=e50dd9ad437cd28effb3d2d4e51265db. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
Delaney, David G. “Neutrality Acts.” Major Acts of Congress, edited by Brian K. Landsberg, vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 66-69. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3407400231&it=r&asid=5857bae0871ce8e2105ea29c237e5a36. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
“Embargo Act (1807).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2015, pp. 379-381. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3611000275&it=r&asid=04f56b30da03c843f1df9631a1d454b4. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
“Hiram Warren Johnson.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 8, Gale, 2004, pp. 300-301. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3404703347&it=r&asid=40aa2a37ec20e231ef4e2ec6ad2c5a76. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
Knott, John. “What Price Freedom of the Seas.” Dallas Morning News. 5 March 1937.
Rappaport, Armin, and William Earl Weeks. “Freedom of the Seas.” Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, edited by Richard Dean Burns, et al., 2nd ed., vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002, pp. 111-122. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3402300066&it=r&asid=63c0fb9915224211a6b2b41f192d9311. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
Schuker, Stephen A. “World War I War Debts.” Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 8, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003, pp. 542-543. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3401804606&it=r&asid=393cc8c39279d947d296ff78adc127b8. Accessed 16 Oct. 2017.
Young, Jr., James Leroy: Freedom of the Seas , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/freedom_of_the_seas
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.
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 2016: A 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.
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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