The first time I gained an audience after delivering my earliest offering of political satire I was 12-years-old. It was 1980, and I was part of a generation of youth growing upon a constant diet of television news and Saturday morning mass marketing. The gag was a pop bottle being held up by the infamous leader of Iran alongside the caption “Drink Ayatollah Cola.” With the daily fear reminder of an angry, eyebrowed dude in strange garb from halfway around the world holding hostages and leading mobs in chants about death to America, the cartoon was instantly hailed by my classmates and was allowed to hang on the wall.
From a Canadian kid’s vantage point in 1980, the world was clearly divided by good and bad. The Soviets, led by a wheezing, uni-browed autocrat named Brezhnev had his billing for the evilest bad guy challenged by the Ayatollah Khomeini, a real-life Darth Vader. The good guys were the Americans led by President Jimmy Carter.
Being the leader of the free world brought with it the customary ordeal of ridicule and derision by comedians, satirists and editorial cartoonists. It was thanks to them that a brief moment of history was culturally defined by a big, toothy presidential grin on giant peanuts, caricatures by Dan Akroyd on SNL and across newspaper editorial pages. It was a golden time for an aspiring cartoonist to begin honing his skills.
I was too young to delve deeply or understand much about the details of domestic turmoil the USA faced during the Carter years. I do recall picking up bits of gloom about an energy crisis, of stagflation, of malaise and the fact that the youngest Kennedy brother had an ax to grind about an unpopular President.
The lasting memories of the Carter years for this 12-year-old-foreigner’s mind are the global events of a never-ending hostage crisis, a Summer Olympic Games boycott and a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Fast forward 40 years later and that same President was photographed amidst a pandemic wearing a toothy grinning Jimmy Carter face mask, designed by yours truly.
The news of this came through a series of tweets beginning with a question to followers by the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists Twitter account asking if anyone among us designed face masks. Since I do run an online shop of history caricatures I replied. That led a cryptic reply with a photo of a senior wearing a mask under the handle @peanut_brigade. Then, to a Google search of a July 31 article in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
David Osborne, an accomplished musician who plays piano at Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel, is also known as “Pianist to the Presidents”, for the number of White House performances he’s made over the past several decades. He and Carter have built a friendship over the years. On the eve of Osborne receiving a music award in his home state of Oklahoma, the pianist received a texted photo of the masked ex-President by Jimmy Carter himself. He then shared the photo with the Las Vegas newspaper.
If only I could go back in time and tell my 12-year-old self that I would one day draw a cartoon of Jimmy Carter’s smile and Jimmy Carter would wear it on his face!
Jimmy Carter has built a very respectable standing in his post-presidency years. Unlike others, he hasn’t used public life to enrich himself financially. Instead, he’s lived a long life advancing human rights and helping to improve the quality of life for people around the world.
Even in their mid-90s Jimmy Carter and the former First Lady Rosalyn, continue to devote themselves to public service by doing what a sitting President is loathe to do, promote the use of face masks in the time of a deadly pandemic.
That’s a noble cause to put pen to paper to, or in this case, Presidential pearly whites.
MacKay’s Carter Editorial Cartoons