In an uncharacteristically kind and gentle move, editorial cartoonists across the United States this week hammered the tips of their pens into plowshares and declared a seven-day moratorium on ridiculing President George Bush.
The love fest got rolling on Monday in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury." In that strip, fictional editorial cartoonist Harvey Foote complained that he and his colleagues felt left out of the honeymoon the media traditionally extends to a new President.
On Tuesday, the strip featured the forged signatures of eight well-known cartoonists (". . . and a lot of other guys") who had, in fact, responded to a Jan. 30 "Dear Colleague" letter from Trudeau. To help the new President "get a handle on the vision thing," they agreed to grant him a honeymoon of "no less than seven days."
The President could not be reached for comment. But informed sources within the cartoon community hinted that the whole thing may be a joke--a snide subterfuge designed to lambaste the Commander-in-Chief with faint praise.
In keeping with the spirit of the day, at least two nationally syndicated cartoonists drew semi-saccharine valentines to Bush.
Tony Auth, cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, catalogued the new President's attributes on a valentine: "Genuine war hero, loving husband, terrific father, great outdoorsman, true egalitarian, and a seer of potential in Dan Quayle."
But Auth conceded that exuding such warmth made him uncomfortable. "It felt very strange to be doing something so positive," he said.
Anyway, he doubts that Bush got a chance to see his panegyric. "I heard . . . that when (the President's staff) gives him the Inquirer, they cut my cartoons out because he dislikes them so much."
"I hope that's true," he added.
Paul Conrad of The Times penned a heart-encircled coupon entitling Bush to one "kinder, gentler editorial cartoon."
Others took the cease-fire more seriously.
"I arranged my career to go along with it," said Doug Marlette. "That's how committed I am to it. I'm not doing any cartoons this week," he said, adding that he is taking advantage of the time off to make the move this week from the Atlanta Constitution to New York's Newsday.
Can They Control Themselves?
Marlette worried, though, that some of his colleagues may lack the self-discipline to make it through seven days without presidential satire.
"We may have people go off the wagon because it's such a temptation," he said. "When Nixon went out (of office) we were all calling each other like Alcoholics Anonymous, trying to get through the withdrawal."
Conrad is one who couldn't restrain himself.
"As far as I'm concerned, the honeymoon is over today," he said on Tuesday, even though his signature appeared on Trudeau's declaration of amnesty.
"You can't trust these cartoonists," said Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News, who also signed the Trudeau pact. "I've got two Bush ideas on my desk right now, trying to decide which one I'll do."
"We're an attack medium," Ben Sargent of the Austin American Statesman said. "We have to be critical of those in power."
Sargent, like some of his colleagues, dislikes the present trend in which cartoonists flock together to address issues--even in jest. In this case, Trudeau sent the letter to nine cartoonists and asked them to spread the word to others. The cartoonists were told 'If we take part, we'll get mentioned in 'Doonesbury,' " Sargent said. "Well rippity do dah!"
Some Are Not Amused
There are indications, however, that the public may not view a Bush-cartoonist honeymoon as a laughing matter.
Jeff Danziger, whose editorial cartoons appear in the Christian Science Monitor, said that he has already received "a bunch of letters from people" who are angry that he began lampooning Bush so soon after he was inaugurated.
"They immediately call up and accuse me of being a Democrat. Which I'm not," he said. "I voted for Bush."
When Nixon was elected to a second term, Herblock of the Washington Post gave him a honeymoon of sorts by offering him a free shave. Then, for a couple of weeks he drew the President without the stubble he'd been portrayed as having throughout the previous four years.
Cartoonists aren't hopeful that Bush will be as much fun as Nixon. But they aren't fretting, either. While some remain wistful for what they see as the halcyon hilarity of the Reagan regime, most are convinced that the Bush bash has only just begun.
"I'm not worried for the profession," said Dan Wasserman, cartoonist for the Boston Globe.
'A Treasure Chest'
Bush, he said, "has got a hard act to follow. Reagan was probably the best thing cartoonists have had since Nixon. But . . . this is a guy of such weak convictions that the constant disparity between what his lips are saying and what his hands and feet are doing is going to be a treasure chest for cartoonists."