Hurricane Harvey could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the catastrophic flooding. More than 30 people have died.
Politico published a cartoon mocking flood victims. The media outlet tweeted out the cartoon:
Politico deleted the tweet, but the cartoon is still visible on its website.
The cartoon was widely derided. T. Becket Adams spoke for many when he wrote:
“Wait until after all the corpses have been fished out the water before taking lazy, partisan cheap shots at an entire state,” Adams also suggested. Here are just a few of the reasons why this cartoon failed.
1) Theological Ignorance
Oh, where to begin. How about with one of the most cliched Christian jokes out there. There are literally 1.6 million returns on Google for a search of the joke about God sending a boat.
Here it goes: A guy is sitting on his rooftop, praying to God to save him from a flood. A guy comes by in a rowboat and tells him to jump in. “No, thank you!” responds the man. “I’m praying to God and he will save me!”
Then motorboat comes by and the people in it shout at the stranded man to jump in. “No thanks!” says the flood victim. “I’m praying to God and he will save me!”
Finally, a helicopter comes by and the pilot lowers a rope to rescue him. The man says, “Thank you but no thanks! I’m praying to God and he will save me. I have faith in it.”
The man dies and goes to heaven. He asks God why he let him drown.
God says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What more did you want?”
We were taught this joke as young children to show us that God works through means. Among those means are vocations. We serve God by serving our neighbors, including by helping them out in floods. Christians believe that a Coast Guard helicopter pilot and an accountant in a raft can both be instruments of providence. Christians do not believe that God must intervene supernaturally in order for him to intervene.
2) Undue Worship Of the God of Big Government
Following the Islamist terrorist attack in San Bernardino, some progressives were upset that religious adherents prayed to God for mercy. Senators, journalists, and other progressives mocked those who prayed, saying that their prayers were nothing compared to meaningful government action. In this case, that meant restrictions on Second Amendment protections.
This cartoon is of a piece with that approach. Theodicy attempts to explain God’s goodness and omnipotence in light of evil and natural disasters. The theodicy of federal government seeks to defend the goodness of government in the face of tragedy. As I wrote following San Bernardino, “some progressives blame — before we actually know what is even going on in a given tragedy — insufficient fealty, sacrifice, and offerings to the relevant god of federal government. And so they explain that the god of good government would have been able to take care of us if only we’d given it sufficient power to do so.”
We couldn’t have a better visual demonstration of this progressive fealty to the god of federal government. The Texas victims in this image are depicted as Confederate yokels who wave — heaven forfend! — Gadsden flags and advocate secessionism. The good federal government saves them despite their lack of worship.
In reality, the Harvey rescue and recovery has involved Americans across all paths of life working together. Yes, this includes the federal, state, and local governments. It also includes countless individuals who hopped into boats to save lives. To wit:
Dear God some people give me such hope:
REPORTER: What are you going to do?
HERO: I’m gonna save some lives.pic.twitter.com/Qj2nmvCD97
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) August 27, 2017
This man isn’t rescuing, but he’s helping with recovery in a delightful way.
God bless whoever was in this Spider-Man suit making the kids smile at the convention center pic.twitter.com/urVxrUrcfc
— EL FOOSAY (@SheHatesJacoby) August 30, 2017
First responders in government are doing excellent work. But the idea behind the cartoon — that only government officials serve their neighbors — is just flatly wrong.
3) Bad Art
This might be rude to point out, but Matt Wuerker makes Herblock seem original and artistically talented. (Wonderful takedown of Herblock by the great Andrew Ferguson is here, if you’re so inclined.) The first time I saw this Politico cartoon, it reminded me of The Onion‘s cartoons. Those cartoons are supposed to parody political cartoons. But some political cartoonists are so bad that it’s difficult to do.
Jimmy Princeton focused on the real problem with Wuerker: his inability to draw.
4) Politically Ignorant
Even if you are the kind of jerk who thinks it’s fun to mock people for their politics as they’re drowning, Wuerker’s understanding of the political situation in Houston leaves much to be desired.
I get that most people in the media are currently out of their gourds with Trump derangement, but Texas isn’t even particularly Trump-enthusiastic. Ted Cruz won the GOP primary there with 44 percent of the vote to Trump’s 26.7 percent. Just over 52 percent of the state voted for him in the general. And in Houston’s Harris County, Hillary Clinton soundly defeated Trump.
Houston is the fourth most populous city in the country, an engine of the national economy, and much more complex than Wuerker’s crude understanding would suggest. No matter who any of these flood victims voted for, only a truly wretched heart would mock them as they are dying or dealing with catastrophe most of us will never know.
5) If You Have to Explain the Joke, It Failed
Wuerker responded to the criticism of his cartoon oddly:
Riiiiiiiight. He also, more accurately, said he was simply trying to praise the government. That at least makes sense, since secessionism is not the same thing as rejection of rescue efforts or even rejection of government rescue efforts. Secessionism is not a synonym for anarchism, after all.
But maybe Wuerker has a bee in his bonnet about secessionism. The most active current movement toward same is not in Texas. Hardly. It’s in California. I’m sure he’s drawn dozens of cartoons against secessionists there. Or maybe he’s waiting for a catastrophic earthquake or deathly fires to strike.
Let’s end on a more positive note, provided by another political cartoonist, albeit one with more artistic talent and fewer hackneyed thoughts:
— Nate Beeler (@natebeeler) August 29, 2017
And for the love of all that’s holy, let’s not politicize literally everything. The rescue and recovery efforts on display in Texas and Louisiana showcase some of the best human interaction around. Let’s show some compassion to our fellow citizens facing devastating loss, and let’s praise those who are helping their neighbors.