Freedom to publicly question actions of government officials is as American as apple pie

To the Editor:

In response to the recent letters criticizing a political cartoon by Ed Cowley and encouraging the editor to limit letters with satirical commentary, I am sharing some history about the importance of political cartoons.

Per the Library of Congress, “In 1754, Benjamin Franklin published the first American political cartoon [a dismembered snake] urging the British colonies to ‘Join, or Die’ in defense against France and her Indian allies. Following ratification of the United States Constitution and the First Amendment, political cartoonists in the new republic enjoyed unprecedented freedom to express their views protected by the nation’s courts from charges of libel or governmental persecution.

“Thomas Jefferson ... bore the brunt of numerous graphic invectives, signaling the vulnerability of American politicians from the top down to personal attacks and the vigorous good health of a democratic system founded on the principles of free speech and a free press.”

President Abraham Lincoln called cartoonist Thomas Nast his “best recruiting sergeant,” while “Boss” Tweed soon railed from jail against “them damn pictures.” Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist assaults on American institutions and individuals provoked few angry protests from newspaper cartoonists, with the notable exceptions of Herbert Block and Walt Kelly who openly challenged McCarthy with satire and caricature, complementing the journalistic efforts of Edward R. Murrow.

The amazing award-winning drawings published weekly on the Enterprise editorial page are another example, some of which have intense or controversial images meant to foster thought or persuade the reader, which could be narrowly characterized as divisive or nasty.

But shocking, insulting, immoral, indecent, heartless, vile, violent? No!

This cartoon was satire to clarify the conflict between the Altamont Comprehensive Plan with the proposal of a billion-dollar company to tear down a two-family home, build a glaring noisy modern-style building with huge increased pavement area close up against a beautiful Victorian neighborhood home in the heart of the village.

It’s really a stretch to say Ed Cowley was really advocating locking anyone in stocks for violating the comprehensive plan!

Freedom to publicly question the compliance, interpretations, and actions of government officials is as American as apple pie; freedom of speech, the press, to petition the government, to seek redress of grievances.

Threatening the press with cancellations, leaders manipulating inexperienced appointees, demonizing participants, restricting public communication, ignoring and discounting the significant input of a large number of residents are the unAmerican and divisive actions. 

Kirby Wilson


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