Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists

May 07, 1987

The President. Etta Hulme, members of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, distinguished guests, it's a pleasure to welcome America's editorial cartoonists here to the White House this morning. I know cartoonists are an independent lot who often march to the beat of a different drummer. Of course, sometimes when I see the way some of you draw me, I wonder if it's just a different drummer you're marching to. Maybe it's the "Tune Tones." [Laughter] But it's a tribute to the hard work and careful organizing of Etta and her staff that all of you free spirits have arrived here today at the right time and in the right place. Next week I want Etta to show you where you should arrive on the question of contra aid. [Laughter] Anyway, to Etta and to all of you, let me just say: Thank you for coming.

As you know, this is the second time that we've had editorial cartoonists here during this term. Last May 1 had some of you over for lunch. We're still looking for the missing silverware. [Laughter] And I'd like to know who drew the graffiti on the hall wall. [Laughter] I don't want you to erase it; I just want you to sign it. [Laughter] But cartoonists occupy, seriously, a special place in my heart. I hope Gary Trudeau will remember that it's heart, not brain, heart. [Laughter] Still, as you may have heard, I like to draw cartoons and caricatures myself. So, when I see a particularly good one in the newspapers, particularly one of myself, I want to throw a bouquet—or something. [Laughter] Don't get me wrong; I don't mean that personally. After all, for me, politics is forgive and, as you may have heard, sometimes forget. [Laughter]

Seriously though, one thing that I, and no politician, will ever forget is the importance of the work that each of you does. Cartoons show America politics from a special angle—irony, wit, satire, outrage, as well as, occasionally, sympathy and affection. These are the qualities that animate your work. And it's these special qualities, captured in your illustrations, that have become so much a part of our political culture from our country's very first days. Cartoonists' drawings of the Boston Massacre helped ignite the fire of the American Revolution. A century later, the cartoons of Thomas Nast helped wash the soil of corruption from the fabric of democracy. As Boss Tweed said, and I'll quote: "I don't care a straw for newspaper articles. My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them darned pictures." Now, actually, he didn't say "darned," but Presidents have a few restrictions now that weren't imposed on him.

Political cartoonists have helped every one of us express our feelings about the great national events of our day. Who can forget Bill Mauldin's mourning Lincoln? Bill drew for all Americans a picture of the grief that ached in our hearts after the tragic loss of a young President. Yes, you are part of our national debate and our national experience. Your humor helps give America's political dialog its characteristic way of humanity. And in doing that, you keep us here in Washington from taking ourselves too seriously, and I can't think of any greater service to the national sanity than that.

Yes, it's hard to believe now, but just 30 years ago one leading journal of opinion ran an article entitled "The Decline and Fall of the Editorial Cartoonist." A cartoonist for the Army Times, John Stampone, saw the article. And John was determined that a profession that had been so much a part of our country's history would not be wiped out. And the result—your organization. At first there were just 83 members. Today there are over 300 all across the United States and in Canada and Mexico, as well. Far from being an extinct or even endangered species, your profession is thriving now as never before.

Here at the White House during my Presidency, we've taken notice of your work-more notice than it's ever received, I think, in the past years. In fact, since my first days in Washington, our News Summary office has produced a weekly anthology of editorial cartoons. It's called "The Friday Follies." For me, and probably for most of the White House staff, it's the most eagerly awaited document of the week and gives new meaning to TGIF. But let me put one rumor to rest. It's not true that "The Follies" is the only reason we don't schedule state dinners on Friday nights. I don't need all night to stew over them.

So, this is why I've asked you here today: to say thanks for all that you've meant to American life, thanks for the laughs and thanks for the groans and thanks for the insights. Thanks also for what you'll mean in the years ahead. If someone were to ask what's the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union, I guess one answer would be that in the United States editorial cartoonists can publish pictures lampooning Ronald Reagan, while in the Soviet Union cartoonists must publish pictures lampooning Ronald Reagan. [Laughter]

Yes, you're an integral part of our free society, and your vitality is a sign of the vitality of freedom itself. As I said, I enjoy your work. But since you're so free at critiquing the job I'm doing, I thought that it would be only fair, now that I have the chance, to take a shot at critiquing your work. I know you can dish it out, but can you really take it? Now, I have here a random selection of some cartoons from "The Follies," and I'll just offer a few words about each. Since we're interested in promoting family values, I'll use language other than what you're accustomed to hearing from your editors. Before I begin, I'd like to add that the signatures on the cartoons have been deleted to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Now, this first one is not one of that display. I just put that there to thank you all for doing this for me. And I assure you it's going to be framed, and it will be hung in a place of honor. And it's sure to wind up in a Presidential library. But, Etta, could I ask you to lend a hand? Don't let that get away from us.

Now, first cartoon—now, in case some of you can't read, that says, "Let me clarify the last clarification of the previous clarification on the earlier clarification of the '85 tax issue." [Laughter] But that isn't what's important. What's important is where I'm pointing. [Laughter] I've tried everything I can to get my hair to stand up the way you've pictured it— [laughter] —and it just won't take.

Now, the second cartoon—here you've got me looking a little upset, and you've got the White House falling down. And that's Howard Baker with the tool kit. And I'm saying, "Oh, good, you must be the handyman we called." But if you were close enough, you'd see that I look a little upset, and that's probably because I just found out Howard doesn't do windows. [Laughter]

The third cartoon—well, in the balloon it says, "Economic Recovery." Now, I'm having trouble recognizing the fellow in the chair, but the crapshooter on the floor—I got him right away. [Laughter] Yes, sir, he's still recovering from the last election. [Laughter]

Now, we're to the fourth cartoon. Now, this one is titled "The Great Communicator." But as you can see, there's been some mistake there. They left the balloon blank, so I think that— [laughter] —by filling it in-I forgot what I was going to say. [Laughter]

Now, I guess, we come to number five. And this one must be a reprint from an old Hollywood publicity piece. It's funny it hasn't gotten brown around the edges lately. But what I have it here for is, I'm going to ask Ted Turner to colorize it. [Laughter] I must confess I rather like that last one. You may try to guess the cartoonist. I'll give you a hint. It wasn't Tip O'Neill. Thank heavens he never learned to draw.

In my West Wing study with my other cartoons, I also have a number that are particularly special to me. They are the get well messages that many of you sent me after I had a little accident not far from here in late March of 1981. For me, they're a daily reminder of your sensitivity, compassion, and devotion to the Nation's welfare. So, let me leave you with two pieces of advice: first, keep drawing; second, take it easy on the old boy. And if I could suggest a subject for all of you right now, it's that monkey business that's going up on the Hill with regard to your money and how the Government's going to take it away from you. I think that'd be a fine thing.

So, thanks for stopping by. God bless all of you. Keep it up.

Reporter. Mr. President, General Secord says North says he told you about the contra aid diversion. Is that right? [Laughter]

The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], you're interrupting Etta.

Ms. Hulme. Hey, Sam, who invited you here?

Q. Etta, did Colonel North tell you? [Laughter]

Ms. Hulme. We're not quite through here.

Q. We can't hear. Mr. President, we can't hear you. What was your answer?

Q. Turn the mike up.

Ms. Hulme. Turn the mike on? Is the mike not on? Now is the mike on? Now the mike's on. We have a question before I make a presentation. Is it true that you had us here in the Rose Garden because you heard we drew on the walls? [Laughter] But I would like to present you with this book, "The Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year," that's signed by many of our members. And we appreciate your invitation today.

The President. Well, thank you very much.

Ms. Hulme. Thank you.

The President. Thank you all. And f you'll promise to draw a picture of Sam, I'll answer his question. [Laughter]

Q. General Secord testified that North told him that he, North, had told you about the contra aid diversion.

The President. Well, then he was misinformed. I did not know that there was any excess money until the day before I told all of you that Ed Meese came in and said he had found a memo that indicated there was additional money. I did not know about it. And I did not know—and I'm still waiting to know—where did that money go.

Q. But you flatly deny all this?

Q. What did you know about what Secord was doing, sir? What did you know about what Mr. Secord was up to over those 2 years?

The President. Well, I knew that Mr. Secord is a private citizen, was engaged with other private citizens in trying to get aid to the contras and so forth. And there's nothing against the law in that. And I'm very pleased that American people felt that way.

Q. —military aid, sir?

The President. What?

Q. Military aid?

Q. I move this meeting be adjourned.

The President. A motion to adjourn is always in order. You've just voted. Thank you.

Q. What about Gary Hart dropping out? What do you have to say about Hart? He made a hard decision this morning.

Note: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Etta Hulme, president of the Association. The President was given a poster illustrated with caricatures of himself.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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