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The Iowa Caucus: A Creative Visualization

Politics is hard, and we need some straightforward and literal way to handily process the ever-shifting alliances of power in an election season. To that end, The Baffler has employed expert comic mind David Rees to give a visual rendering of the day’s signature political controversies. The only problem is that David can’t draw, so his cartoons are word pictures—which is to say, words. He does, however, warmly urge Baffler readers to submit their own visual interpretations of the scenes he describes, so that we can get away with calling this a cartoon feature, and meet our quota of user-generated content on the Baffler website. 

Of all the art forms, none is more powerful and vital than political cartooning. Simple drawings of donkeys and elephants, with clearly labeled objects representing the issues of the day, can enlighten even the most sophisticated news consumer. When lighthearted caricatures of politicians are added to the mix, the results are even more explosive—indeed, they can change the course of American history. It happens every day.

Here is an idea I had for a political cartoon about recent events.  

A woman and a man are arm-wrestling. The woman’s face is a rictus of panicked entitlement, while the man looks like a marionette whose operator ate a pound of Xanax and then tried to do a jumping jack. The woman’s jacket is labeled “H. Clinton;” the man’s is labeled “B. Sanders.” After a few moments of deliberation, you conclude: The arm wrestlers are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Just when you thought this humble cartoon couldn’t contain more symbolism, you realize that the tabletop on which they’re struggling is a slightly irregular rectangle—in fact, it’s shaped like Iowa. A clue! The tabletop must represent Iowa! (Another clue is that it’s white.)

So Clinton and Sanders are struggling to win the Iowa Caucus. (I should mention there’s a banner in the background that reads, “THE STRUGGLE FOR THE IOWA CAUCUS, A HARD-FOUGHT BATTLE BETWEEN CLINTON AND SANDERS IN 2016,” which doesn’t escape your notice because you are a close reader of visual information.)

You’re about to forward this cartoon to everyone in your address book (subject line: “I LOVE THIS POLITICAL CARTOON”) when you notice four more things:

1. Clinton and Sanders, while arm wrestling, are both simultaneously sliding down and climbing up firehouse poles. These poles, labeled “polls,” give you a tingly feeling in your excitement zone depending on who you favor and how you interpret their movements.

2. A shower of coins is raining down on Clinton, symbolizing her dominance of the caucus’s tie-breaking coin flips AND the enormous campaign contributions she has received from Wall Street AND the personal fortune she and her husband have made from corporate speaking engagements AND her reluctance to challenge a corrupt financial system that grinds the American family under its boot heel with sadistic self-satisfaction AND the fact that “coin” rhymes with “Des Moines,” a city in Iowa. 

3. A suburban couple, asses planted deeply in one of those horrible Midwestern couches that looks like a pile of dough wearing a corduroy suit, is watching the arm-wrestling contest through a gigantic lens. The lens is labeled “optics,” while the suburban couple is labeled “undecided voters interpreting political reality through a facile narrative mediation now fundamental to our experience of democracy.” (You chuckle at the naïveté of the suburban couple, without realizing how easily you could be drawn into this cartoon—literally—such that someone more sophisticated than you could look at a cartoon of you reading this cartoon, and chuckle at the naïveté of the person labeled “pseudo-sophisticate who thinks they ‘get it’ because they follow all the right people on Twitter,” all the while failing to see the huge mediating device that distorts your own interpretation of reality.)

4. The arm wrestlers are flanked by two crowds of onlookers, each cheering for their candidate while staring daggers at the members of the opposite crowd. Each crowd’s angry faces are shadowed by a gigantic record player you hadn’t noticed until now, a close inspection of which reveals it to be playing Black Sabbath’s 1970 album “Paranoid.” Intrigued, and seduced by the amazing detail of the cartoonist’s fine-tipped pen, you follow the groove of the record and realize the phonograph’s stylus has been drawn so that it’s positioned at exactly five minutes and sixteen seconds into the record’s first song—“War Pigs”–i.e., the precise moment when Ozzy Osbourne sings, “Satan laughing, spreads his wings.” You look from the drawing of the angry onlookers to the drawing of the record player, from the spectacle of heated party infighting to the cold mechanics of demonic glee, and then you understand why the record player is labeled “Ted Cruz, our next president, who is probably Satan and is definitely laughing.”

 Can someone please draw this cartoon for me?

Submit your breathtaking illustrations—preferably before the next caucus—to [email protected]

Update: We’re delighted and astonished to have received stunning illustrations that capture the subtle nuance of David’s finely honed satire. Our four favorite cartoons appear below.

David Rees cartoon illustrated by Rachel Smith
Courtesy of Rachel Smith
David Rees cartoon illustrated by Catie West
Courtesy of Catie West
David Rees cartoon illustrated by Christine Scherb
Courtesy of Christine Scherb
David Rees cartoon illustrated by Conor Gillies
Courtesy of Conor Gillies