Paul Conrad was also probably the first cartoonist to associate the Watergate break-in with Nixon, publishing the cartoon below on June 18, 1972, the day after the Watergate break-in was reported as a minor burglary. At the time, only a handful of people even suspected there might be a White House connection. Conrad by then was an established national political cartoonist and known as an “equal opportunity offender,” lampooning all manner of politicians and public figures regardless of affiliation.Political cartoons, of course, have been an important part of the cultural landscape and print media for centuries. They have often proven to be especially illuminating of current events, educating the public, and becoming historic guideposts to what happened and when it happened. Paul Conrad’s work did its share of illuminating and educating, and as such his work was part of that time’s cultural tableau. Some of Conrad’s work is briefly reviewed here, mostly with examples from the Nixon years. Conrad’s cartoons, however, covered a range of politicians and he also used his pen to bring attention to social injustice, environ- mental pollution, civil rights, homelessness, corruption, war, and other subjects.
“Throughout our history…,” Conrad explained to the Des Moines Register’s Tom Longden in 2009, “it’s always come down to the friction between the haves and have-nots, or between the average Joes and the large corporations. So that’s a recurring theme in my work.”
In his career, Conrad skewered 11 presidents – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes. He also won three Pulitzer Prizes for this work of poking fun at politicians during a 50-year career. He spent 30 years at the Los Angeles Times, where his lampooning helped raise the newspaper’s national profile.Paul Conrad was born in 1924, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up in Des Moines. He has often said his first drawings appeared on the bathroom stalls of his Catholic elementary school. After high school he and his twin brother went to Alaska, where Paul drove a truck and played piano in a brothel. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army and fought at Guam and Okinawa, Japan. After the war he enrolled at Iowa State University to play in a dance band, but later dropped out, then enrolling at the University of Iowa. There, he began drawing cartoons for the student newspaper. After graduating in 1950 with an art degree, he moved to Denver and soon became recognized as one of the country’s leading young political cartoonists working at the Denver Post, where he stayed for 14 years. Conrad won his first Pulitzer there in 1964. He joined the Los Angeles Times that year after being contacted by it publisher, Otis Chandler, who was then trying to make his paper less conservative. The liberal Conrad gladly obliged. He spent the next 30 years there ruffling feathers of politicians and others. Frank Sinatra once called him “a disgrace to responsible journalism,” and in 1968, Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty sued him for libel over a cartoon that suggested the mayor he had lost his mind. That suit was dismissed. Paul Conrad drew cartoons at the Los Angles Times six days a week, wining two of his Pulitzers there — one in 1971 and another in 1984. He retired from the Los Angeles Times (but not drawing) in 1993. In the 1970s, especially, Conrad’s favorite target was President Richard Nixon.
Nixon’s Enemies ListIn 1973, it was revealed in Congressional Watergate hearings that Richard Nixon’s White House team had amassed a listing of political enemies. The list of major political opponents was first compiled by presidential assistant Charles Colson special counsel to the White House, in September 1971. The list was part of a campaign officially known as the “Opponents List” or the “Political Enemies Project.” The existence of such a list first became public when former White House lawyer and Nixon ally, John Dean, mentioned them during the Senate Watergate hearings, Dean noting then that a list existed containing names of those the president did not like. On June 27, 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee released the first White House Enemies List in two parts, a top 20 list for special attention and another list of about 200 “Political Opponents” organized in categor- ies. Together, these names comprise what is also known as “Nixon’s First Enemies List.” The official purpose of the list, as described by the White House Counsel’s Office in one 1971 memo, was to “screw” Nixon’s political enemies by means of IRS tax audits and/or other means, such as manipulating grant availability and federal contracts, or through litigation and prosecution. In an August 1971 memorandum from John Dean to Lawrence Higby, Dean explained the purpose of the list:
“This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies….”
Later, a much longer list consisting of some 576 names was also revealed – a list which included hundreds of names that had been sent by Nixon’s people to the IRS in 1972 for possible tax audits. That’s the list on which Paul Conrad’s name appeared. Conrad, however, was in good company, as the full list included many political notables, selected publications, and celebrities, among them: Bill Cosby, Gregory Peck, Ted Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, Joe Namath, Jane Fonda, Bella Abzug, Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many others.For Paul Conrad, being on Nixon’s enemies list was no idle threat. The IRS audited Conrad’s tax returns for tax years 1968 to 1973. Conrad, in fact, had been in Nixon’s sights for some time. In any case, Conrad continued his Nixon drawings, some of which during the Watergate era became so strong that the Los Angeles Times moved them off the editorial page and onto the op-ed page. As Nixon faced an almost certain impeachment in House of Representative and likely conviction in the Senate, Conrad did an Easter Sunday cartoon of Richard Nixon nailing himself to a large cross that the Los Angeles Times refused to run, believing it too offensive. After the White House tape recording system came into play, helping incriminate Nixon, Conrad drew Nixon in a cartoon pinned down by audiotapes, after a scene from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, with Gulliver (Nixon) among the Lilliputians. Near Nixon’s end in the White House, Conrad had Nixon in very dark cartoon with crown on his head quoting Shakespeare’s King Richard II: “O that I were as great as my grief, or lesser than my name. Or that I could forget what I have been. Or not remember what I must be now.” Later, at Nixon’s resignation and his famous departure by helicopter, Conrad drew Nixon’s helicopter flying over the White House with the caption: “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” Some years later, in 1977-78, Conrad savored some irony when he was chosen that year to hold the Richard M. Nixon lecture chair at Whittier College, the president’s alma mater. Conrad would also skewer President Gerald Ford in September 1974 for pardoning Richard Nixon. That cartoon has Gerald Ford looking out at the reader, holding an official looking, scroll-type piece of paper with seal, etc. that is titled “Pardon” and reads: “I herewith pardon Gerald R. Ford for the presidential pardon granted to former president Richard M. Nixon by President Gerald R. Ford. – (signed), Gerald R. Ford.” Said Ford of Conrad: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you’ve been the subject of a Paul Conrad cartoon.”
Democrats, TooConrad, mostly a liberal Democrat, was not partial to political party. In fact, in the 1950s, he voted for Republican Dwight Eisenhower but later soured on Ike’s policies. His cartoons could also be praiseworthy, and one 1958 Eisenhower cartoon lauded Ike’s enforcement of the Supreme Court’s school desegregation order. Ike had sent army troops to enforce the law and help integrate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Conrad also went after the Democrats. In the 1960s, he lampooned Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson and became quite critical of Johnson. Conrad believed Johnson’s policies during the Vietnam War were despicable, drawing one 1964 cartoon showing Congress supplying the president with a “blank check” to wage war on Vietnam. “I really detested Lyndon Johnson,” Conrad said. “For the Vietnam thing, that’s the one you could really get your teeth into. That was wrong, man, from the word go.” Another of Conrad’s LBJ cartoons from 1968, shown above right, came at the time Johnson was bombing North Vietnam. The cartoon has Johnson with his vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, riding a bomb similar to a scene from the Dr. Stranglove film in which actor Slim Pickens rides a bomb in similar fashion. The caption reads: “We’re gonna’ make history, Hubert!” Conrad also did some notable cartoons on Ronald Reagan. In fact, he first took after Reagan in the 1960s when Reagan was governor of California. Conrad’s cartoons often had Reagan in over his head, and he sometimes cast him as a clown. Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler reportedly received a number of early-morning calls from Reagan or Nancy complaining of Conrad’s portrayals. But after Reagan became President, Conrad continued his lampooning. He once had president shown as “Reagan Hood,” stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Another, shown at left, had Ronald and Nancy Reagan in a send up of Grant Wood’s classic American Gothic pose, made during the 1980s farm crisis when thousands of farm families were losing their farms to foreclosures, and as some charged, to Reagan policies. Conrad also skewered Reagan’s foreign policies; one cartoon had the president in a bathtub playing with warships and a rubber duck. In 1993, Conrad accepted a buyout from the Los Angeles Times, but he continued to draw syndicated cartoons for more than 15 years. In the early 1990s, Conrad came after President Bill Clinton with a few hits as well. “Clinton was a disappointment,” Conrad would later say. “I mean, he became more of a Republican than most Republicans. He sold out the Democratic party, as far as I can tell.” One 1994 cartoon by Conrad, shown at right, has Clinton kow-towing to the Republican agenda, playing his saxophone into the Republican elephant’s trunk, with the caption, “Young man with a horn.”
In his career, Paul Conrad also did some sculpture, and he designed limited-edition bronze figures depicting Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Golda Meir and Martin Luther King Jr. One of his sculptures, entitled “Chain Reaction,” made of chains depicting the dangers of a nuclear war, was placed in front of the Santa Monica Civic Center in California. His cartoons have also been published in a number of books, including: When in the Course of Human Events (1973, with Malcolm Boyd), The King and Us (1974), Pro and Conrad (1979), Drawn and Quartered (1985), Con Artist (1993), Drawing the Line (1999), and I, Con (2006).Paul Conrad turned out more than 20,000 political cartoons in his career, many of which were syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and seen by millions. In 1993, he was the subject of a PBS documentary, Drawing Fire. After the 2008 election, he depicted Sarah Palin with a smoking machine gun in one hand as she held up the trunk of a slain Republican Party elephant in the other. Paul Conrad died of natural causes in September 2010. He was 86 years old. He leaves behind an important time capsule of 50 years of political and social observation.
Other stories at this website on Richard Nixon include: “Nixon’s Checker’s Speech, 1952,” “1968 Presidential Race – Republicans,” and “The Frost-Nixon Biz, 1977-2009.” For other stories at this website on politics, please visit that category page or visit the Home Page for additional story choices. Thanks for visiting. – Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 19 May 2011
Last Update: 19 May 2011
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Jack Doyle, “Enemy of the President, 1970s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 19, 2011.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Matt Schudel, “Paul Conrad, 86: Pulitzer-Winning Political Cartoonist,” Washington Post, September 6, 2010, p. B-4.
Tom Longden, “Paul Conrad’s Cartoons Carry Strong Messages,” Des Moines Register, March 25, 2009.
“Master List of Nixon’s Political Opponents,” Wikipedia.org.
William Claiborne, “IRS Ignored Bid to Audit ‘Enemies’ List,” Washington Post, December 21, 1973, p.1.
“The Complete, Annotated Nixon’s Enemies List,” EnemiesList.info.
Yvonne French, “Afflicting the Comfortable: Cartoonist Paul Conrad Puts Words Behind the Pictures,” Library of Congress.
Paul Conrad, Drawing the Line: The Collected Works of America’s Premier Political Cartoonist, Los Angles: Los Angeles Times, 1999 (this collection of 200 Conrad pieces spans his career from the 1960s to the 1990s).
Paul Conrad, Con Artist: Paul Conrad: 30 Years With the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times, 1993 (a three-decade retrospective of Conrad’s work at the Los Angeles Times).
Paul Conrad: Drawing Fire, Independent Lens/PBS Documentary, PBS.org, Independent Television Service (ITVS), October 2006.
James Preston Allen, Publisher, “Censored in LA: Paul Conrad Speaks on Why His Cartoons Won’t Be Seen by Angelenos,” RandomLengthNews.com, July 8, 2005
Michael Dooley, “Conrad, Mauldin and Nast: A Personal Perspective on Editorial Cartoons, Past and Present,” Aiga.org, September 21, 2010
“I Con, The Brilliant Work of Paul Conrad,” Exhibition Photographs, College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, CA, September 1 – September 30, 2010.