Sunday, August 15, 2004

Yankee Doodle 

[WARNING: Images below may be disturbing to some readers]

Profiling Senatorial candidate Barack Obama in last month's Atlantic Monthly, Ryan Lizza can find only one thing (potentially) wrong:
If there is a knock against Obama, it is that he is perhaps a little too enchanted with all the attention and acclaim... I couldn't help noticing, when we sat down to talk in the dilapidated storefront that houses his Springfield campaign headquarters, that the blue-pen drawing he'd doodled on his newspaper during fundraising calls was a portrait of himself.
But wait, there's more:
At the end of today's lunch, a group of reporters gathered around [Obama] to shake his hand goodbye. Seeing me, Obama borrowed a pen and started drawing two faces on his newspaper, explaining with a laugh what I had written. One face was a craggy profile that would never be mistaken for him. The other was a frontal view of a man with a narrow face and oversized ears. I instantly recognized it as the drawing on his office desk in Illinois that I had reported--and still insist!--is a self-portrait. "You see a picture of a guy with a long chin and big ears and automatically assume it's me?" he asked. All the reporters, including me, cracked up. No way, he maintained, that's not me. Doodle-gate was successfully defused.

The episode was just a small example of why Obama is obviously headed for big things. Nursing a grievance, however small, with a reporter, he made the point that he was a little irritated, while at the same time making a joke of his annoyance. But he did it without alienating one of his most important constituencies--the press.

His art lesson finished, Obama said his goodbyes and walked out of the room. A reporter turned to me and said, "That man is going to be president."
[The New Republic]
Lizza, whose work I generally like, can be forgiven for making the common jump from "he noticed me!" to "he's gonna be President." Less forgivable, however, is the opportunity Lizza passes up to answer a fundamental question of American politics: is doodling presidential?

The answer: hell, yes, it is.

As you can see from the doodle reproduced below (which I scanned from the journal Cabinet and will happily take down if asked), Ronald Reagan, for one, shared Obama's love of doodling heads which bear a striking resemblance to his own.

[Incidentally, similar doodles have inspired this truly bizarre reading of Reagan's politics as being rooted in castration anxiety]

Readers can determine for themselves whether this doodle by LBJ has any elements of self-portraiture.

Examples of Eisenhower's doodling can be found here and here. Herbert Hoover apparently enjoyed doodling and designing girl's dresses. JFK's sailboat doodles are well known (and if you look very very closely and hallucinate, you can see the tiny self-portrait manning the helm).

Richard Nixon not only enjoyed doodling, but also took care to analyze the doodles of others, as this too-good-to-be true (but true nonetheless) interview reveals:
[Richard Nixon]

I always watch my opposite numbers to see how they doodle. I draw squares and diamonds and that sort of thing. I'm a very--I--I don't--

Day 5, Tape 1
[Frank Gannon]

You're a Republican doodler.

Day 5, Tape 1
[Richard Nixon]

Probably a square doodler, but I noticed that, for example, in 1972, when we were having our first discussion with Brezhnev about missiles. We--the argument was as to whether or not a big missile could be put in a smaller hole. Now, obviously, it can happen, or technically. But, in any event, he said no, and what he would do, he drew there, while we were talking about it, he would draw holes and then missiles as--to see whether or not they could go in the holes and so forth and so on. And down here, when we were meeting in a cabaƱa looking out over the s--Black Sea, he doodled--in this case, he drew a heart with an arrow through it. I--I don't know what s--that signified, but that was when we were failing to reach agreement on a proposal to limit M.I.R.V.s, which we had proposed and which they had rejected--rejected, at least, on any meaningful basis.
Note that the preceding discussion has been squarely aimed at what might be called the "unselfconscious doodle" or the "free doodle." Lest we forget, there is also the "calculated doodle," produced for public consumption rather than private amusement. Where to find such a beast? For some inexplicable reason, there are huge numbers of "Charity Doodle Auctions" around the world, where donors line up to pay big money for bad drawings by people famous for things other than art. As far as I know, Gerald Ford is the only US President to donate a doodle to one of these fundraisers (and his "doodle" is actually an autograph), but the other celebrities at this particular auction donated some choice pieces, including the tushy drawn by Kim Cattrall and the "I copied this off a placemat at the UNICEF cafeteria" work provided by Jesse Jackson.

Non-Presidential politicos participating in charity doodle auctions include John Glenn (linked above), Reagan/Bush I press secretary Marlin Fitzwater and William "Screw the Facts" Safire.

I'd like to end this piece on a note of warning. The non-Kiwi readers of this blog may not know that charity doodling can get politicians in trouble, particularly when they sign their names to works they didn't actually create. "Paintergate", and its subcomponent "Ponsonby-primary-school-doodlegate", the lamest quasi-scandal in the history of the universe, was just such a case. I ask all faithful Bonassusites to remember the lessons of this stupid chapter in world history.

[Note: Readers interested in more on Presidential doodling are strongly urged to check out Cabinet Issue 12.]

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