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Cartoonists, Lampooning the Political Elite

Two of America's best-known political cartoonists are currently being honored with public exhibitions in the nation's capitol. Pat Oliphant has been producing humorous sketches of Washington's most powerful figures for 53 years. His work is prominent in newspapers across the United States. Oliphant's contemporary, Herbert Block - better known as "Herblock" - died in 2001, but not before etching himself into the hearts of millions with his cartoons. VOA's George Dwyer recently took in tributes to these two popular American cartoonists.

Political cartoonist Pat Oliphant is best known for his satirical portraits of Washington's most powerful figures. Now a new exhibit called "Leadership: Oliphant Cartoons and Sculpture from the Bush Years" is putting the full range of his talent on display.

Adrienne Jamieson is Director of Stanford University's Stanford in Washington program, which is hosting the exhibit. "I think Pat Oliphant, like a handful of other great political cartoonists in this country and elsewhere, is an equal opportunity satirist," Jamieson said. "I have always found it very interesting that you can talk to folks in either party at the full range of the ideological spectrum and they will all tell you that they admire his work, even if they have been the subject some time of his satire."

The exhibit features everything from notebook sketches to wall murals and even sculpture - like a bronze sculpture of former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But it is his political cartoons that have made Oliphant famous.

Jamieson says that - far from being offended - most politicians welcome the attention, "If you are somebody who has been depicted by Oliphant - either in one of his cartoons or sculptures, or one of the wonderful large panels in this exhibit - you know that in some sense that you have made it. You are on the radar screen in the Washington community," Jamieson said.

Each cartoon offers a distinct political insight into U.S. policy. And that is also true of another exhibit now on display at Washington's National Portrait Gallery. The original drawings by the cartoonist known as Herblock span seven decades of American history - sketching out the sometimes-inflated egos of presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Curator Syd Hart says Herblock was consistently respectful of the office of President, if not always the occupant.

"Block (Herblock) is in that long tradition of cartoonists who poke fun at government officials, are critical of government officials if they feel that they are doing something wrong or not doing what they ought to do," Hart said.

In fact he says, Herblock felt it was his duty to point out the personal shortcomings of America's most powerful political figures.