It's not that we need more proof that editorial cartooning (with the exception of Reason.com's Bok, Payne, and Stantis) is the lowest of all art forms, but here you go, a week's worth of doodling by the Arizona Republic's Steve Benson, who is, of course, a Pulitzer Prize winner.
On January 9, the day after the horrifying violence in Tucson, Benson crafted a totally typical (read: uninteresting and instantly forgettable) image. Look, it's an old man (Barry Goldwater? No, can't be due to the 'stache and lack of trademark glasses) who's sad.
By Monday, January 10, the specious connection among rhetoric, the Tea Party, and Jared Loughner was hardening into conventional wisdom among the commentariat (though not the American people), sort of like the way that a crunchy gordita from Taco Bell hardens in your large intestine within an hour of consumption. So let's go with that. Don't you see that violence is a gun and rhetoric the trigger? Or, actually, rhetoric is the finger on the trigger. An itchy finger, I bet. And the bullet? What's the bullet? Mental illness? Well…this thing is already getting more complicated than a Yoko Ono word-painting.
On January 11, as we learn that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is showing signs of response in the hospital, Benson thankfully makes sure that we won't mistake who's in the bed:
Is he going for another Pulitzer? A poignant January 12 image is rendered in anticipation of Obama's well-received address to the nation from University of Arizona, though the hugging eagle seems a bit awkward, if only because it's not clear if he is looking at the viewer or down the back of the personification of Arizona. Either way, something ain't right:
Then there's January 13, when the president himself had said that political rhetoric had nothing to do with the shooting. It's as good a time as any to take a shot at Sarah Palin, whose own statement on the shootings impressed no one outside of her own family (and even then, I'm betting the vote was split). Beyond the grotesque, dehumanizing imagery, note the helpful tags in the lower-third of the cartoon. Jeez, if it wasn't labeled, I would have guessed that the state outlined there was Arizona or that the Rep. Giffords was from there. It's a good thing that the shooting didn't take place in New Mexico, I guess, because then Palin's image would have been like totally in the way:
January 14 seems like a good time for Benson to drive back to the high road. The amazing thing here is Benson's generous reading of our intelligence by not slapping on a "Giffords" tag somewhere in the pic:
Then there's January 16's offering, which completes the cycle of cliche, sadness, recrimination, cliche, sadness, recrimination by imploring all of us to stop yelling at each other. But we should still keep drawing people as cyborg-like gun-ladies of course because free speech is really important, especially when it's directed at hate-mongers who are really deep-down responsible for the actions of a insane lone gunman who had no connections whatsoever to them.
In this set of images, I think we get a good sense of how the media will memorialize the Tucson shooting and reference it in the future (indeed, Frank Rich is already traveling back in time to argue that point). That is to say, the rush to judgment that Tea Party/Sarah Palin/redneck rage was the root cause of it all regardless of any evidence in support of that thesis will stand. Because we should never forget that all the violence that was predicted by everybody with a brain back during the summer of 2009 (read: supporters of health-care reform) that never came to pass was really just the tinder for the current moment, when political violence remains thankfully shockingly rare and not even politically motivated when it does come to pass. Which isn't any reason not to marginalize anybody who disagrees with you on political issues.