July 30, 2005


Laughing at the Left (Harry Stein, Summer 2005, City Journal)

Bruce Tinsley, creator of the conservative comic strip Mallard Fillmore, remembers feeling stunned when the fan letter showed up in February 1998. After all, his strip— featuring a right-leaning TV newsman or, more accurately, newsduck—was still in its relative infancy. Yet here was George Herbert Walker Bush declaring that he and Barbara turned to Mallard, “sage duck that he is,” first thing every morning. Even more gratifying, the former president thanked Tinsley for taking on “that horrible Doonesbury” and its creator, liberal icon Garry Trudeau, “a guy that tore me up in a vicious, personal way strip after strip.”

By all accounts, Bush 41 is a pretty mild-mannered guy, but in this case it’s easy to understand his feelings, since Trudeau really did regularly savage him politically and personally—perhaps most famously in portraying him as having “placed his manhood in a blind trust.” Not that such nastiness was anything but par for the course for Doonesbury. For all the complexity of its characters and its sometimes engaging story lines, the strip has been relentless over the decades in its unbridled hostility to those on the other side of the ideological fence.

The Mallard strips that prompted Bush’s letter had been a response to a series of Doonesbury strips that disdainfully characterized conservative talk radio as “hate radio.”

“Mallard Presents: Learning the Liberal Lexicon!” reads the opening panel of one of the strips. “ ‘Hate Radio,’ a common liberal word made from 2 ordinary words.” In the second panel, a bespectacled professor type explains: “ ‘Radio’—the thing we use to listen to N.P.R. in our Volvos.” “ ‘Hate,’ ” adds a dowdy aging hippie in panel three—“the word we use to describe any opinion that DISAGREES with OURS!”

“That was really terrific,” says Tinsley today of the ex-president’s appreciative letter, noting that from the start he intended Mallard to be, among other things, an antidote to Doonesbury. “It was for all those people, and I guess that included even him, who never get a fair shake from the liberal media and cultural establishment.”

The most revealking thing about Doonesbury is that it was funniest when Mr. Trudeau was still at Yale taking potshots at academia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2005 12:00 AM

I'm ashamed to admit I though Doonesbury was good back in my teen years. In my defense this was far enough back that Doonesbury was still attacking academia and was anti-establishment which as a teen I was into. By the time I got to college age it was clear Doonesury was another liberal partisan who drew cartoons instead of writing op-eds. Since Reagan/Bush I he has been so partisan as to be unreadable.

Posted by: AWW at July 30, 2005 10:34 AM

Compare and contrast:

Doonesbury when Trudeau was funny.

Doonesbury today.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 30, 2005 11:29 AM

Until they started selling the NY Post in Jacksonville, I used to send a week's worth of Mallard Fillmore cartoons to my folks regularly.

Posted by: bart at July 30, 2005 11:56 AM


Doonesbury was funny, long ago, back when it made fun of everybody. Remember, it mocked Senator Kerry back in the day. But, like many liberal weblogs, it drifted in to shrill partisanship.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 30, 2005 8:50 PM


Back then, he was Comrade Kerry (but that was 34 years ago).

Doonesbury peaked with the Watergate reunion party ("We're Richard Nixon's Secret Tape Club Band!").

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 30, 2005 9:05 PM