My Stint as a Political Cartoonist

This week I’m posting one of my old comic strips from 1993, since this one seemed relevant to my previous post on religious liberty.

I’m generally uncomfortable posting most of my strips now for the same reason that I “got out of politics” over a decade ago: because politics is so divisive. I’m much more interested in building bridges, and in focusing on the spiritual aspect of life, because I believe that’s what ultimately matters. But I thought the strip below was fair, pretty innocuous, and good-natured. In my opinion, it’s just describing the water in which we’re all swimming, (or perhaps drowning.)

Freedom-Church and State

Yes, I guess I can say I was a cartoonist for a while. I worked for a free, alternative newspaper for a few years, called KC Jones – the Newspaper of Politics & Polemics. I had picked up the paper one day in a restaurant, and, to my surprise, found that I agreed with its editorial perspective. However, the paper was butt-ugly and as visually dense as the enchanted forest. I looked up the owner, and he immediately hired me to start doing covers. Eventually I asked if I could do a comic strip as well.

The owner, Rich Nadler, ran the paper out of a dumpy little office in Kansa City, MO. Rich was a brilliant, prolific, politically conservative Jew who never actually graduated high school. Long before I met him, he was in the progressive rock band, Pavlov’s Dog. (I think he played violin. The band was successful enough to have a Wiki page.) The rest of the staff included a bright, atheist Libertarian, Rod McBride, who was capable of monologuing for long periods of time. I also remember a very young, ridiculously good-looking, goth-looking dude (before being goth was a thing.) He was called Spit, apparently because he would spit on his audience during his musical performances. I suppose I rounded out the staff by being the born-again, pony-tailed artist Jesus freak.

I used the pen name, Elvis Lackey. My strip coincided with the Clinton presidency.

A few words about the above comic strip
Here is my simple understanding: Conservatives are often referred to as “anti-government” by liberals. This is dishonest political rhetoric. Such a label would more accurately describe an anarchist. But the topic of the proper role of government in America is an interesting one. I believe that sincere conservatives and liberals ultimately want the same things; we just have different understandings of how to get there. I believe the means we choose of reaching our goals has to do with our fundamental beliefs about human nature.

Why are so many Bible believing people politically conservative? Because fundamentally, we believe human nature has been corrupted. It follows, then, that human beings generally can’t be trusted with power. History bears witness. America’s founders believed this as well, and therefore they set up a separation of powers; three branches of government to keep each other in check. Monarchies, dictatorships, and theocracies do not have a separation of powers.

Those of us who agree with the reasoning for separating the branches of government are generally also enthused about something the Founders called self-government. Therefore, conservatives who favor constitutional government are not anti-government. Rather, we favor limited government, and self-government. We favor a free arena of competing ideas based on a foundation of inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, as opposed to rights given by government.

The concept of limited and self-government can only work if the people govern themselves. Religion has traditionally served the role of promoting good character and self-restraint in the general population. In believing this, religious conservatives believe that they are in agreement with America’s Founding Fathers, whose political philosophy remains as relevant as ever. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other – John Adams

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty – John Adams

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters – Benjamin Franklin

None of this is to say that “non-religious people” are somehow not welcome here, or that a materialist atheist cannot be a virtuous person. The point is that religion has traditionally served the public order. Whatever means they individually choose today, religious or otherwise, the people must govern themselves or else the government will necessarily step in to maintain order. When the people order themselves, then there is no reason for government overreach or intrusion, and a free and pluralistic society can thrive. Since government necessarily equals force and compulsion, freedom depends on keeping government limited.

Paradoxically, then, the worldview that holds a distrustful view of human nature turns out to provide the maximum amount of freedom for the individual.

Why do liberals believe that human beings can be trusted with governmental power?
I have no idea.

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Why I Got Out of Politics

 

underground comic superhero-Familyman

Proof of my former life in politics: A frame from my comic strip, Zeitgeist, featuring the superhero I created: Familyman!

Okay…I guess you could argue that I was never really “in” politics. I’ve never been elected to any public office. I’ve never really even worked on anybody’s presidential campaign. However, well over a decade ago when I lived in Kansas City I was a minority committeeman for my district. I was once arrested and jailed for civil disobedience. I did a political comic strip and provocative covers for a political free paper in Kansas City for several years. But mostly, in my mind I was “in” politics. Politics occupied a good deal of my thought and time, and I was actively engaged in trying to influence public opinion in whatever (non-coercive) way that I could. I’m intentionally not telling you what stripe of activist I was, and that is part of the point of this post.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still fascinated by politics, and I certainly vote in every election. I love history, and I still enjoy discussing politics if I can find someone willing to discuss political differences without getting their shorts all in a snit. But here’s the deal: I’ve always believed the most fundamental, revolutionary, life-changing aspect of life is the spiritual, not the political. I saw over and over again when I was “in” politics, that politics creates division, yet I was ultimately seeking to unite people with their Creator and with each other. Inevitably, people with whom I engaged in political discussion associated my politics with my “religion”. Politics distracted both them and me from what was more important.

Here is what I came to. At least in American politics, I believe that to a large degree, both conservatives and liberals want the same things: peace, freedom, basic rights for all people, less suffering, less injustice, and a better world in general for everyone. I believe we just differ in our beliefs as to how that should be accomplished; liberals tend to look for government solutions, conservatives seek to keep the role of government limited and look for local/private sector solutions. That’s a significant difference, but it’s a difference that at least allows us each to view those on the other side as simply misguided, rather than seeing them as hateful or evil in intent. We all know that there are jerks on both sides of the spectrum. I hope we can also agree that there are reasonable and compassionate people on both sides.

In this age, given that human beings are so deeply flawed, I don’t believe there can be a perfect human system. Human greed and selfishness can turn free market capitalism into an oppressive, exploitive force. Human selfishness and arrogance can turn socialism into a soul-sucking, spirit-crushing narcotic. It is only the spiritual that can effectively address and change the human heart. In the meantime, the best we can hope for politically is to ensure that everyone’s basic freedoms are guaranteed – freedom of speech, of expression, of religion – so that truth and reason can compete in the marketplace of ideas.

This political season, I hope that we can each vote our conscience without maligning those with whom we disagree. At an underlying level, we all probably want the same things.