The prescience of political cartoonists

Tuesday 7 November 1972. The 47th quadrennial presidential election in the USA.

Richard Milhous Nixon defeated George McGovern in one of the biggest landslide victories in US presidential election history, taking 60.7% of the popular vote, and 520 of the 538 Electoral College votes. Nixon seemed set for a successful second term in office. After all, he’d already made some progress in foreign affairs, having begun the normalization of relations with China, for example.

That was before the scandal we’ve come to know as Watergate surfaced. Such was the impact of this scandal that almost any shady dealings in the public arena today are reported as ‘this-gate’ or ‘that-gate’. It was a significant development in the politics and political history of the late 20th century. And the outcome? Nixon resigned as 37th President of the United States on 9 August 1974.

But even as the Watergate scandal was unfolding, there was one group of media people who really smelt a rat – and I’m not talking about The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. No. I’m referring to a cohort of political cartoonists, especially Herblock and Oliphant, who had latched on to some of Nixon’s shady dealings very early on in the game, over 18 months before Nixon was forced out of office.

At the beginning of January 1973 I moved to Lima in Peru, and took a subscription to both Time Magazine and Newsweek. Once I’d read them I just put them to one side. However, when we moved apartments in August of that year, I took all the magazines with me (never could be sure why), and the pile continued to grow. In early 1974 I realized I had more than a year’s worth of magazines, most of which carried each week one or more political cartoons targeting the latest Watergate revelations – and beyond. What a cartoon treasure trove I’d assembled. It was then I decided to make a scrap book containing all the cartoons and related information I could get my hands on. Many of them hit the nail right on the head, and the cartoonists were well ahead of the other political pundits in exposing Nixon’s crimes.

Just click on Nixon’s image above to view my Watergate scrapbook. I think you’ll find it revealing and entertaining. It’s a large PDF file so it might take a little while to open.

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