Herblock's History - Political Cartoons from the Crash to the Millennium
Invasion of the corporate body snatchers
Big business became bigger during the 1980s, when deregulation legislation gave corporations more freedom. Wall Street witnessed an increase in volatile junk bond financing and illicit insider trading. Herb Block's cartoons from the period offer his commentaries on such issues as gun control, the environment, abortion, and televangelists. He took issue with President Reagan's domestic policies and foreign ventures in Lebanon, Iran and Central America. In June 1989, he drew a grim memorial to the dissidents killed by Chinese soldiers at Beijing's Tiananmen Square area.
This cartoon appeared as the United States government filed suit against the Occidental Petroleum Corporation for dumping hazardous waste at Love Canal and other sites around Niagara Falls, New York. Pressed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department also sued for reimbursement to cover the costs of cleaning up the toxic waste sites and to relocate people whose homes had become contaminated.
"You can do a favor for me -- Rub out any gun control legislation"
During the 1980s, the National Rifle Association directed its efforts toward repealing the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, which banned the mail-order sale of guns and ammunition. Using its powerful grass roots organization and heavy treasury to target legislators who supported gun control, it helped to elect a more sympathetic Senate in 1984. And in 1986, it achieved the repeal of the 1968 legislation.
"You can do a favor for me--Rub out any gun control legislation," August 7, 1980. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, and opaque white, over blue pencil underdrawing on paper. Published in the Washington Post (94) LC-USZ62-126877
"The Gods are angry"
When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he immediately pressed his program to cut taxes, reduce money spent on social programs and deregulate regulatory agencies. He named appointees to consumer protection and civil rights agencies who could be counted on to make them practically inoperative. Some Democrats went along with Reaganomics, but many felt it gave relief to the very rich and too little to the most urgent areas of need. Herb Block comments: "Reagan continued to call for balanced budgets without ever presenting one and tripled the national debt."
"On to Central America!"
On August 21, 1982, President Ronald Reagan ordered eighty Marines to Lebanon, and one month later he sent 1200 more. At a press conference, correspondents familiar with the area had pointed out that U.S. troops barracked at an airport would be in an extremely vulnerable position. On April 18, 1983, a truck bomb destroyed the American Embassy in Beirut, killing seventeen U.S. Foreign Service and military personnel. On October 23, 1983, another truck bomb destroyed the Marine Barracks, killing 241 Marines and 19 U.S. civilians. Two days later, Reagan ordered an attack on the little Carribean island of Grenada, ostensibly to protect American students, who were unaware that they needed protection.
Invasion of the corporate body snatchers
In this cartoon, Herb Block anticipated the super-giant, super-mergers that came later. In the 1980s, the deregulation of banking in the United States allowed financiers to use unprecedented and risky tactics. Financial innovations such as junk bonds encouraged corporate mergers, leveraged buyouts, and hostile takeovers at a phenomenal rate. By April 1985, the failure of many savings and loan institutions cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. It was described by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh as the biggest white collar scandal in history. Herb Block says, "It was swept under a very large rug."
"Right up my alley"
The Reagan administration made abortion a top issue. Acting Solicitor General Charles Fried filed a brief with the Supreme Court on July 15, asking that the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision be overturned. It was the first time since 1954 that the Justice Department had requested that a key decision be reversed. On July 10, the House of Representatives voted to deny foreign aid to international groups that funded abortions.
Arms payoff for hostage release
On November 2, 1986, an American hostage was released by an Iranian group that had held him captive for more than seventeen months. It was soon reported that his release was linked to a transfer of military spare parts to Iran. President Ronald Reagan commented that such a story "has no foundation" and "is making it more difficult to get the other hostages out." Herb Block comments, "But the story was true, and the trading of arms actually provided an incentive for the taking of more hostages. Appearing on television, Reagan said forcefully, 'We did not, repeat not, trade weapons or anything else for hostages.' When this was proven to be untrue, he later made a carefully worded retraction. He left it to Attorney General Meese to disclose the diversion of arms-sales funds to Nicaraguan contra rebels, a violation of an act of Congress."
"Speak softly and carry a big stick"
As the Iran-Contra scandals grew, a Reagan-appointed commission headed by former Senator John Tower held hearings. President Ronald Reagan told the Tower Commission that (A) He did not know the National Security Council staff had been helping the contras; (B) he had "no definite knowledge of military aid"; and (C) "I was very definitely involved in decisions about the freedom fighters. It was my idea to begin with." Secretary of State George Shultz contradicted Reagan's testimony on knowledge of arms-parts shipments. When continued disclosures became public, the bold Reagan administration lapsed into the passive: "Mistakes were made." The Tower Commission absolved Reagan of blame in the Iran-Contra scandals, attributing his part in them to memory lapses.
"Our bags are packed" -- Weinberger on Star Wars program
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was a strong advocate of increased arms spending, including the proposed anti-missile missile program, known as "Star Wars." The $640 toilet seat collar on Weinberger became a Herb Block fixture after disclosures of Pentagon purchases of $435 hammers, $466 socket wrenches, $600 ashtrays and $2,043 wing nuts.
"Our bags are packed"--Weinberger on Star Wars program, January 25, 1987. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, opaque white, and overlays over blue pencil underdrawing on paper. Published in the Washington Post (101) LC-USZ62-126882
Church of the Heavenly Antenna
Self-serving TV evangelists made the news even as they broadcast their sermons on television. In Herblock at Large, the cartoonist wrote, "Also dealing in megabucks have been the TV evangelists who decry sin and who are up there in direct communication with God --- while at a more mundane level, they rake in millions a year to keep themselves on TV --- and sometimes to keep themselves living in the high style to which they have made themselves accustomed." A good example was Oral Roberts, who raised $8 million dollars after telling his television audience that God had warned him that he would die if he did not receive the money.
"And we pray that you sinners out there will see the light"
Some televangelists exploited those who could least afford to give. Several of these preachers, who preyed on the guilt of their listeners, were revealed as imperfect role models. In April 1987, the Reverend Jim Bakker's television empire, Praise the Lord (PTL), crashed when Bakker's sexual misconduct was revealed and federal and state officials began investigating PTL's funding practices.
"And we pray that you sinners out there will see the light," May 3, 1987. Ink, crayon, porous point pen, and opaque white, over blue pencil underdrawing on paper. Published in the Washington Post (104) LC-USZ62-126871
On June 3 and 4, 1989, Chinese army troops and tanks rolled into the Tiananmen Square area in Beijing to crush student-led pro-democracy protests that had begun in mid-April. Residents of other cities in China and nations worldwide protested the bloody crackdown. Casualties were estimated at 5,000. Herb Block reprinted this cartoon ten years later as a reminder of the Chinese rulers with whom Americans were dealing.