Cartoonish Arguments


Radley Balko gives a proper fisking to a Tom Tomorrow cartoon about those wacky libertarian think tanks.

Something Jesse wrote about Doonesbury last year applies pretty well to Tomorrow's stuff, I think. That is, I used to find him at least occasionally amusing and insightful. But over the last couple of years, it seems that he's fallen into relying on an unfunny formula: Concoct a cheap, straw man version of a position you oppose, and put it in the mouth of a 50s-style talking head. How hilarious. So now they're not so much "editorial cartoons" as bad editorials with incidental drawings. Does anyone actually laugh at these anymore?


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  1. …I thought the rebuttal was pretty funny. Ergo, at least the cartoon was funny if only for the response it inspired.

  2. “Concoct a cheap, straw man version of a position you oppose, and put it in the mouth of a 50s-style talking head.” It works for “Day by Day”.

  3. I’ve trained myself to skip page 13 of the local weekly just to avoid reading Tom Tomorrow. I’m a sucker for political cartoons, but it’s in the interest of my mental and physical health to not read his drivel.

  4. That Balko is brilliant! When someone starts laughing at your boilerplate…recite your boilerplate!

    This is a fisking?

  5. Meh. There’s some iron law by which the longer a cartoon has been in print, the lamer it gets. They run out of ideas I guess? That had about as much wit and insight as your typical installment of Ziggy or Garfield.

  6. But the left thinks of libertarians as straw men with 50s heads, so in this case its dead on (or dead wrong.) The third panel with the guy remarking “look at all these roads and nobody’s making a dime of them!” is that point. The left doesn’t think we’re just greedy, they think we’re spacy and disconnected from reality

    To them, libertarianism is ideological autism.

  7. Oh, another thing. I’m not sure the word “fisk” can be used anymore with a straight face. Use it again and I’ll fisk you you idiotarian! On my warblog even!

  8. Maybe it’s just my take on the world, but I thought the cartoon won in a unanimous decision. And it was fair-to-middling, Tom Tomorrow-wise.

    Julian, maybe it’s not that Tom Tomorrow’s lost his touch. Maybe you’re just spending too much of your time in an all-libertarian feedback loop.

  9. joe – the thing about Tom Tomorrow is that, in trying to be ironic, he actually espouses views that (at least, much of the time) make good common sense. Or, at least they make good sense to someone who thinks outside of the political mainstream box once in awhile.

    For example, the market DOES pay off in the long run. Is that supposed to be an ironic statement?

  10. Well, he chose the word. And while I agree with Jesse’s redefinition of “idiotarian” [(1) idiot (archaic), (2) someone who has offended an idiot], I think “fisk” is perfectly servicable and at least potentially ideologically neutral. After all, the line-by-line interspersed rebuttal is a pretty common web phenomenon; it’s useful to have some name for it.

  11. I love the Tom Tomorrow cartoons. Yes, they’re sometimes simplistic and shallow in the depth of the ideas expressed, but what political cartoon isn’t? It has much to do with the nature of the medium. I think that Tom Tomorrow’s works comments on and plays off of the shallowness of public political discourse in general in addition to raising key points about particular issues. Most people are not policy geeks a la Radly B. Like it or not, your average voter is heavily influenced by the sound bites, half truths and over simplifications of complex political positions/policies employed by all sides/parties and Tomorrow is working with this reality in his cartoons.

    I think the main purpose of a political cartoon is to provoke consideration by the reader/viewer of the issues raised therein – not to debate details of policy or positions. Tommorrow does this very well.

  12. I too was appalled by Tom Tomorrow’s comic strip, and was impressed with Radley’s response.

    I also was appalled by the many respondees on this blog who attempted to belittle either Tomorrow or Balko’s opinions by saying it was “just a cartoon” — though I was happy to see subsequent posters pointing out what a cheap, ignorant and overused “shut up” that is.

    Oh, the pain of being a cartoonist!


    — A Cartoonist

  13. Cartoons by design are not intellectually simple displays of opinion but in fact require a great deal of wit if they?re going to be pulled off successfully.

    T. Tomorrow is not one of those.

    The wit is 90% of the cartoon. Two of the three most commercially successful cartoons in recent history have been done by non-artists; The Far Side and Dilbert with Calvin & Hobbes being drawn by an actual artist.

    I personally judge the editorial quality (regardless of whether or not I agree with it) of a cartoon by the number of words needed; the less the better. Of course some need words but the premise is basically that the more pure the idea, the less explanation you need.

    Since the topic is still fresh from yesterday, Michael Ramirez?s strongest point is the ability to convey so much with his imaging alone.

    A cartoon aficionado

  14. I work at one of those wacky libertarian think tanks, and although I cringe at Tomorrow’s premises, it’s always good to a)hear dissent; and b)make fun of oneself or ones ideology occasionally. Plus, humour makes any rebuttal all the better. A+ to Balko.

  15. Overall good article by Balko, responding to a cartoon by TT which plays to TT’s base. But why is it that so many libertarians like Balko feel the need to aim at least some fire at their own? I refer to the theorized atribution of the public road argument to “some LP hack in a bar”.

  16. Every once in a while, though, TT comes up with something hilarious: “I sure hope Osama doesn’t try anything again.” “Osama?! That’s sooo 2001! All the cool kids are afraid of Saddam this year.”

  17. The cartoon was published on July 19, 2000. I see no reason to get mad about it. Let’s just turn on “Who Let the Dogs Out” and anticipate the upcoming Republican convention in Philadelphia.

  18. Re the substance of the cartoon in question:

    “There are streets everywhere you look–and nobody’s making a dime off them!”

    This is at the heart of the goo-goo perception of the world. All those regulations and spending programs are just motivated by idealism and public spiritedness, and they were passed almost over the dead bodies of big business. Hogwash!

    Somebody sure as hell IS making money off the roads: the long-haul trucking industry and the centralized corporate economy that depends on the taxpayer to absorb its distribution costs, so it can enter local markets and destroy more efficient small producers.

    What a free market means is that the people who use stuff and benefit from it are the ones who pay for it, in proportion to the costs of providing the services they consume. As opposed to the present system, where the state underwrites the inefficiencies of big business and sells it to the public as “progressive.”

  19. Admittedly, Tomorrow does kind of nail some of the further out disciples of Rothbard… That’s kind of like swatting flies with a hand grenade tho.

    I highly recommend “Get Your War On” (google it) if you want a bit of acerbic, anti-Bush left wing humor that is actually funny.

  20. Tom Tomorrow had one funny strip about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that was great. One side became “The religion where everyone dressed like the Michelin Man” and the other became “The religion where everyone rhymed and had long mustaches.”

    “I declare this clump of dirt the holiest in all of dirtdome!”

    It was brilliant. But you know, that hardly carries the months of dreck he has churned out since. I think he hangs around Ted Rall too much.

  21. I don’t get it. How is it that this crappy strip is being defended in some of the comments above? The only thing remotely funny about it is how laughably illogical its arguments are (as pointed out by Balko but apparently lost on the posters in question).

    I can’t help but notice that the only defenses offered for the cartoon are ad-hominem, along the lines of “Tom Tomorrow insults libertarian ideas, so Balko responds with a defense of those ideas: you call that fisking? Get out of your libertarian ivory tower!”

  22. Terry Mosher, aka Aislin, is the best in this country. I’m surprised a major syndicate has not enticed him south of the 49th. Bill & Opus in ’04.

  23. Is it a bad sign that when people make fun of you, you agree with them? And don’t mind?

    The twisted thing is I don’t have any trouble at all with the idea of the whole “freedom” cartoon thingey, or much with the whole cocain-prostitute-jet cloud comment either, save the connotation.

    I’m begining to believe that people tend to react to statements more according to the perceived reaction sought to be illicited by a statement, as judged often by the opinion of the speaker themself, than the actual statement. Thus people will not usually laugh unless they know it was a joke (or even find it funny), delivery of a joke and the getting of a laugh is so dependent on tone, inflection, and pausing in the right place (just watch Funny Money on the comedy channel to see what I mean), applause signs and laugh tracks really work, people at rallies (and such) will applaud and cheer for even the most sheer idiocy (even when they actually know better or believe differently), and people can take offense to things that seem otherwise so unoffensive yet not take offense to things that seem otherwise so offensive (as with a variety of racial issues, where the race of the speaker almost totally determines, at least for some, how the comments and intentions are perceived, and the reaction their provoke).

  24. Jeez, I forgot the dancing bug! I love Lucky Ducky. Yeah, Tom has about five or six running gags like Godman that are cool to see resurface once in a while. The strip is great. Essential reading.

  25. My favorite “Dancing Bug” was “Bush and Cheney’s Guide to Getting Rich,” which came out the weekend before the election. It included advice like “Then have your family’s political connections get the city of Arlington to build you a stadium….” For those people born without the Bush family connections, it suggested, “First, become Secretary of Defense…”

    And it ended with the marvellous quote: “Remember, government doesn’t make people rich!”

  26. My favorite strip is “Tom the Dancing Bug.” Anyone else like that one?

  27. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/19/2004 10:28:24
    Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favors.

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