The Balanced Ticket

The Balanced Ticket

Guy Hansen examines a cartoon from the Library's collection

Many Australians have watched the most recent American presidential election with a combination of fascination and horror. While 2016 has been one of the most controversial election campaigns in American history, you do not have to look back too far to find other elections that redefined the American political landscape.

Cartoon of President George W. Bush Celebrating against Al Gore, 2000

Geoff Pryor, President George W. Bush Celebrating against Al Gore, 2000, nla.obj-157264621

Geoff Pryor’s cartoon of Al Gore and George W. Bush reminds us of the 2000 presidential race. Pryor depicts Gore as immobile and sombre, festooned in cobwebs. The Democratic Party’s nominee was the serving vice president and had a reputation as a policy wonk who had an ambivalent relationship with President Bill Clinton. George W. Bush, in contrast, is shown as a friendly and approachable candidate.

The 2000 election was one of the closest elections in American history. On the night of the election some media networks declared Gore the winner on the basis of exit polls. As the count proceeded, Bush pulled ahead by a narrow margin and Gore conceded defeat. The margin in the key state of Florida, however, was so small that a mandatory recount was triggered. Litigation ensued and Bush eventually emerged as the victor when the Supreme Court found in his favour.

Pryor’s cartoon relates to the moment in the campaign when Gore announced that Joe Lieberman would be his vice presidential running mate. Lieberman was the first Jewish candidate to run for a major American political party in presidential history. Pryor depicts Bush celebrating the announcement by singing an Israeli folk song, Hava Nagila, traditionally performed at Jewish weddings. At one level, the cartoon is a simple joke on the ‘union’ of Gore and Lieberman, but at another level Pryor is pointing to how Bush might have felt about this decision. Gore’s selection of Lieberman was widely perceived as a way of distancing himself from President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky affair. Lieberman had been an outspoken critic of Clinton and was seen to bring a moral rigour to Gore’s candidacy. In retrospect, however, it may have been a mistake for Gore to separate himself from the still very popular Clinton.

American presidential politics has always been a major theme in Pryor’s cartooning. As the editorial cartoonist for The Canberra Times, he was given free rein to comment on US politics. The National Library’s collection of over 5,000 Pryor cartoons contains images of a number of American presidents, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Dr Guy Hansen is the Director of Exhibitions at the National Library of Australia.