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Contract on America

Based on President Ronald Reagan's 1985 State of the Union Address, the Republican Party's "Contract with America" promised specific legislative actions if their party won a majority in the House. The tactic worked as voters went to the polls in record numbers in an off-year election, restoring both a Republican majority and Reagan-era economic policies. Herb Block demonstrated his distaste for the "Contract" by portraying it as a death warrant to President Bill Clinton's administrative policies.

Contract on America. Published in The Washington Post, October 7, 1994. Sketch. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, overlays, and opaque white over blue and red pencil underdrawing accompanied by graphite sketch. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (32). Digital ID # ppmsca-11996

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"Are the campaign speeches over?"

Herb Block lambasted President Ronald Reagan's fiscal policies by depicting symbols that contrasted sharply in form and meaning. His obese "Deficit" figure and the Washington Monument visually juxtaposed debt with a homage to one of the nation's most admired presidents. During both terms of office (1981-1989), Reagan tried to foster economic growth through policies based on supply-side economics. According to the administration's Office of Management and Budget, by the 1986 elections, the federal deficit had ballooned to nearly one trillion dollars.

"Are the campaign speeches over?" Published in The Washington Post, November 1, 1986. Sketch. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, overlays, and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing accompanied by graphite sketch. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (33). Digital ID # ppmsca-11997

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"One of these days"

Revolution is afoot in Herb Block's drawing of frowning figures rolling a guillotine toward the Bastille-like walls of "Royal Congress Palaces." In a banner unfurled from the U.S. Capitol reading "Government By the Congressmen For the Congressmen," Block adapted hallowed phrases from Lincoln's Gettysburg address, "government by the people, for the people." In 1978, there were reports of Democratic congressmen taking bribes, receiving large fees for speaking, and accepting lavish gifts. Passage of Proposition 13 in June in California enacted large state tax cuts, possibly inspiring Block's dream of a Proposition 14 that would unseat corrupt incumbents.

"One of these days." Published in The Washington Post, August 12, 1978. Sketch 1. Sketch 2. Sketch 3. Sketch 4. Ink, graphite, porous point pen, and opaque white over blue pencil underdrawing accompanied by graphite sketches. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (35). Digital ID # ppmsca-11999

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"Out, damned 'spots'"

Herb Block adapted a quote from Shakespeare's Macbeth and depicted an outraged television viewer reacting angrily to the thirty-second television campaign advertisements called "spots." While spot advertisements on television had played a role in political elections since 1952, the amount of money candidates spent on them soared with the 1970 election. Mean-spirited spots, which candidates used to attack their opponents rather than address issues, also increased in number.

"Out, damned 'spots'." Published in The Washington Post, October 6, 1970. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (36). Digital ID # ppmsca-12000

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"You wanted something modern, didn't you?"

Herb Block poked fun at the 1966 election reform law by likening it to a modernist sculpture, which he fashioned from an assemblage of disparate, outdated auto parts. President Lyndon Johnson had called on Congress in May to pass legislation to update outmoded regulations for election campaign financing and advocated tax deductions for campaign contributions. The Campaign Contribution Law, passed by Congress in October of 1966, provided for direct subsidy of presidential elections, but the measure was attacked as an unworkable hodgepodge of old and new that would never prevent bribery of elected officials through campaign contributions.

"You wanted something modern, didn't you?" Published in The Washington Post, October 25, 1966. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (37). Digital ID # ppmsca-12001

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"You mean some can and don't do it?"

In his reminder to vote on November 7, 1950, Herb Block conveyed his own global perspective on the priceless value of voting rights. Two ragged drudges, who are portrayed as physically oppressed by the yoke of totalitarianism, express incredulity that U.S. citizens with the precious right to vote sometimes choose not to exercise it. In the fall of 1950, an off year for elections, the news media gave notable attention to stories about voter registration drives and the expectation of high voter turnouts in close races in New York City, Ohio, and Chicago.

"You mean some can and don't do it?" Published in The Washington Post, September 18, 1950. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (39). Digital ID # ppmsca-12003

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"He's taking an awful beating, folks"

Herb Block believed that voters were the real losers in the 1946 off-year election in which Republicans accused Democrats of being Communists and the Democrats equated their Republican counterparts with Hitler. Voter discontent with rising food prices and shortages of such staples as meat and sugar, as well as the growing fear of the spread of communism from Europe, led to a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. The newly elected congressmen included Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Joseph McCarthy, each of whom had a profound impact on American politics in the postwar era.

"He's taking an awful beating, folks." Published in The Washington Post, October 19, 1946. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (40). Digital ID # ppmsca-12004

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"So Much For the Preliminaries. Your First Real Match Will Be—"

The 1974 election brought large, expected Democratic gains in both houses of Congress. Herb Block acknowledged this fact by portraying the donkey's triumph in a boxing match. He also depicted a referee warning the puny victor verbally and visually about its future giant opponent, the "Congressional Seniority System." Years of observing legislators had convinced Block that the power of seniority in key committee positions, many held by Democrats, often impeded the work of elected people's representatives. A bi-partisan effort to reform House committee system problems including seniority was defeated by Democrats in a secret vote earlier in 1974.

"So Much For the Preliminaries. Your First Real Match Will Be—" Published in The Washington Post, November 8, 1974. Ink, graphite, overlay, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Herbert L. Block Collection. Prints and Photographs Division (41). Digital ID # ppmsca-12423

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Sections: Environment | Ethics | Extremism | Get Out the Vote | Middle East | Privacy/Security | War