In her cartoons Ann Telnaes casts a consistently critical eye on U.S. domestic policies, the political leaders who develop them, and how these public figures conduct national affairs. She highlights her concerns about a broad, yet defined, range of issues, including challenges to First Amendment rights, such as separation of church and state and civil rights; varied forms of over-consumption; potential threats to women's health; policies affecting family planning and reproduction rights; racial and ethnic profiling; and the accountability of persons in high positions of public trust. She caricatures President George W. Bush, protests his nomination of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior, criticizes major legislation originated by his administration—specifically the U.S.A. Patriot Act, protests the 2004 record federal deficit of $480 billion, and excoriates the presidential signing into law of the “Partial Birth Abortion” ban. An “equal opportunity” cartoonist, Telnaes also takes on leading Democrats such as Bill Clinton, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and the party's recent slate of potential Democratic presidential candidates.
In Telnaes's cartoon, a shocked and battered Uncle Sam responds to news of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Telnaes also plays on the popularity of “reality television” programs that portray ordinary people placed in contrived situations.
We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming to Bring You Reality, September 13, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over blue pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-1968; LC-USZ62-134306. © Ann Telnaes (1)
Gun Control Issues
One of the subjects that concerns Telnaes is “the availability of guns and violence in American society”—in particular children's access to weapons. This cartoon predates by three years the gun deaths of fifteen people, including the two teenage shooters, at Colorado's Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
Ann Telnaes comments pointedly on over-consumption in American society in a number of her cartoons. “You see it so much,” she says. “Just go down to your local Wal-Mart. Americans, in general, use a lot of stuff. Anyone that's done any traveling overseas knows how wasteful we are.” Telnaes's scene of twentieth-century excess lampoons American over-consumption. Slothful, overweight figures recline amid plentiful fast-food containers and multiple televisions in a pseudo-Roman setting. This image is a take-off on the famous painting The Romans of the Decadence (1847), by French painter Thomas Couture (1815-1879), which created a stir at the Paris Salon of 1847.
Effects of Clinton Scandal
In January, 1998, Linda Tripp contacted Kenneth Starr, independent counsel for the Whitewater investigations, about President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Although Clinton initially denied the affair, in this cartoon, Telnaes imagines political candidates making preemptive confessions to ward off surprise revelations and scandal. “All of a sudden, people were starting to 'fess up to things they had done,” Telnaes says, “just to make sure it wouldn't get them in trouble in their campaigns later on. And I thought, we're going to get to a point where you have to explain everything you do, even if it's perfectly innocent.”
Future Campaign Confessions To Look Forward To . . . February 8, 1998. Brush and ink, opaque white, and paste-ons over blue and violet pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04676; LC-USZ62-134259. © Ann Telnaes (9)
Starr's Investigation of Clinton
On April 16, 1998, Kenneth Starr declined the positions of dean of the School of Law and dean of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. In a letter to Pepperdine's president, Starr explained that he had looked forward to becoming a dean “after completing my duties as Independent Counsel. The work of that Office, however, has expanded considerably, and the end is not yet in sight.” As the independent counsel investigating Whitewater, Starr was at the time focusing on whether President Bill Clinton had encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie about their relationship.
Hillary Clinton's Senate Campaign
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton filed papers to create an exploratory committee to consider running for Senator from New York state on July 6, 1999. The possibility that she would be a candidate arose after the Monica Lewinsky scandal had tarnished Bill Clinton's reputation. Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000.
Byrd Support of Damaging Mining
On October 20, 1999, a federal court ruling that banned mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia prompted action by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd to circumvent the regulation. In this type of mining, mountains are blasted to get at low-sulfur coal reserves; the debris is poured into valleys, burying waterways and woodland. Byrd attached a rider to a federal spending bill exempting West Virginia from following federal environmental regulations. Byrd persuaded President Bill Clinton to back the rider, but Clinton later withdrew his support.
Senator Byrd displays his well known oratorical skills, November 12, 1999. Brush and ink over violet pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04717; LC-USZ62-134262. © Ann Telnaes (13)
Concern for Environmental Issues
President George W. Bush appointed Gale Norton, former Colorado attorney general, as Secretary of the Interior in December 2000. Norton was known to support Bush's proposal that a part of Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge be opened to drilling for oil. Critics charged that exploring for oil would damage the environment for animals, including caribou, which prefer to give birth in the area marked for drilling.
Mississippi's Flag Controversy
On April 17, 2001, Mississippians voted by nearly two to one to keep the Confederate battle flag as part of their state flag. Supporters saw it as a symbol of Southern pride, rather than as a symbol of slavery and an insult to African Americans. Mississippi is the only state to incorporate the Confederate emblem in its flag.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, a member of the Sikh religion, was killed at his Phoenix, Arizona, gas station on September 15, 2001, because he was mistaken for a Muslim. Singh, like other Sikhs, wore a turban and a beard, but was neither from the Middle East nor practiced Islam. In the wake of September 11, there were several attacks in the United States on people incorrectly perceived to be Middle Eastern. On September 26, President George W. Bush met with American Sikh and Muslim leaders and reminded Americans not to be prejudiced or intolerant.
Separation of Church and State
Heightened interest in the Taliban's repressive use of religion in ruling Afghanistan gave perspective to Telnaes's ongoing concern with challenges to the separation of church and state. “I strongly believe in the separation of church and state,” she says. “People disagree with me and say this country was founded on God and Christian principles, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm not an atheist. I'm not even an agnostic. But I think that separation of church and state is the best way to protect everyone's right to worship as they choose.” In this cartoon Telnaes uses the startling visual contrast between two figures, an armed member of the Taliban and an All- American mother, to warn about the danger posed by closely linking faith with government.
It's Time We Put Religion Back Into Our Institutions, September 28, 2001. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04689; LC-USZ62-134265. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (25)
Losing Civil Rights
On December 4, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft told a Senate Judiciary Committee that to defend the United States, strong anti-terrorism measures were needed, including some that Democrats contended violated civil rights and the Constitution. Among the most controversial measures were plans to monitor conversations between detained suspects and their attorneys and to try those who were not American citizens in military tribunals. Telnaes expected more protest, yet, “People seemed to so easily say, we can just give a little bit of our freedom away, to make sure we're all safe,” she observed. “Like it's no big deal.”
For the New Year I've Decided to Give Up Smoking, Drinking, and My Civil Rights, December 6, 2001. Ink brush over pink pencil and graphite underdrawing with opaque white.Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04690; LC-USZ62-134266. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (66)
Patriot Act and Privacy
This cartoon takes aim at Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to demand a person's library and bookstore records in the interests of national security. Critics charged that such action was a violation of civil liberties. In the cartoon, the girl who holds a copy of 1001 Arabian Nights, is being questioned by the FBI. “Librarians were great during that time,” says Telnaes, “because they actively protested giving up their records.”
Health Hazards of Overeating
Research reported in the New England Journal of Medicine issue of February 2003 indicated that being overweight and obesity are a factor in 20 percent of women's deaths from cancer. Breast cancer and heart disease have been particularly linked to obesity and being overweight. Even so, supersized portions and two-for-one value meals are often featured at fast-food restaurants and exemplify a form of over-consumption in America which Telnaes highlights in this cartoon.
A Record Federal Deficit
On August 26, 2003, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report that predicted a record federal deficit of $480 billion in 2004. It also confirmed that the 2003 deficit would reach $401 billion. The Bush administration blamed the economy, the September 11 attacks, and the increase in defense spending for the deficit rather than the $350 billion in tax cuts, which many thought favored the wealthy, that Congress had granted at the president's urging. Telnaes's cartoon points out that, no matter what the official explanation about the budget, ultimately the American public pays for the economic impact of the deficit and increased spending.
Monopolies in Communications Industries
On June 2, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised broadcasting rules to allow a single company to own television stations that reach 45 percent of households. A single company would also be allowed to own newspapers, television and radio stations in the same city. Critics charged that the new rules would create monopolies, giving control of news and entertainment to a small number of companies. Telnaes plays on the popular phrase, “The opera's not over until the fat lady sings.” The lady's singing in the cartoon signals the end of competition. The opera diva figure refers to the three types of media: television, radio, and print. Telnaes found it difficult at first to think of how to represent print media, but then devised the idea of using newspaper print for the skirt pattern. The Financial Times's story on the FCC decision provided a warm peach color.
Sufficient Clinical Trials on Implants?
On July 21, 2003, the National Organization for Women, Public Citizen, and other consumer and health groups asked the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to delay reviewing applications to market silicone breast implants because of long-term health risks. They argued that only clinical trials that lasted seven to ten years would give enough information about the impact of the implants on women's health. The FDA maintained that two years of clinical trials were sufficient. Silicone implants were banned in 1992 after the FDA received increasing complaints about the problems they allegedly caused. In October 2003, an FDA advisory committee recommended they be allowed back on the market.
Candidate Dean as Contender for Southern Support
Howard Dean, contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, drew criticism from fellow democrats for declaring in an interview that he wanted to be “the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” Dean also drew criticism for favoring state regulation of guns and opposing stronger federal gun control. In defending himself, Dean called the Confederate flag “a loathsome symbol,” but argued that “we have to reach out to all disenfranchised people,” such as disaffected voters in the South.
President Signs Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion
On November 5, 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortion. This rarely used procedure is performed in pregnancies that have advanced beyond eighteen to twenty weeks. The smiling men who surrounded the president as he signed the bill included Jerry Falwell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Senator George Allen. No women appeared in the widely distributed photograph of the signing. “The situation is so absurd that you don't have to do much,” says Telnaes. “You're just showing what everyone who looks at the photo is thinking.”
Views of Marriage
The highest court in Massachusetts ruled on November 18, 2003, that, according to the state constitution, gay couples have the right to marry. The ruling stated that “the Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second- class citizens.” Telnaes's cartoon underscores how the traditional view of marriage between a man and a woman left plenty of room for second-class citizenship.
“So, which of you gets to endure centuries of 2nd class status and being legally considered the property of your husband?” .November 21, 2003. Brush and ink and opaque white over pink pencil and graphite on bristol board. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04713; LC-USZ62-134275. Courtesy of Tribune Media Services (47)
A Crowd of Presidential Contenders
With ten months to go until the 2004 presidential elections, the nine Democratic contenders vying for their party's nomination were, clockwise from center: Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, Wesley Clark, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, Al Sharpton, and Joe Lieberman. The New Year's resolution expressed in Telnaes's cartoon was to trim down the field to a manageable size. Braun and Gephardt dropped out of the race later in January.