Bevin rebuked, not his children or adoption

Joel Pett.
Joel Pett. Lexington Herald-Leader

“Tasteless.” “Reprehensible.” “A new low.” “I’ll never buy your so-called paper again.” “You owe (whoever) an apology.”

I’m sure it will surprise nobody that this kind of mail goes with the territory for political cartoonists.

Thanks to all of you who have contacted us, the insults and name-calling notwithstanding.

Did I push the envelope by chiding Gov.-elect Matt Bevin for jumping on the anti-Syrian refugee bandwagon? Sure, and I did so deliberately. I think he and the rest of the crowd who are demagoguing what happened in Paris for political gain deserve it.

(See the cartoon)

Did I attack his children? Of course not. Was the cartoon racist or critical of adopting children, as some are suggesting? The fact that he adopted children from Africa, a continent whose promise and challenges I routinely draw about, is the thing I admire the most about Bevin.

I did use the fact that he has children from another country in a piece designed to express outrage over a legitimate hot-button political issue. (Bevin used them in photo-ops and on TV commercials over the past two campaigns, but that’s another story.) I did this with my name signed to it, in a newspaper with a long history of tolerating and publishing opinions of all persuasions and on a page labeled “opinion.”

I understand that, for many readers, this cartoon may have been a bridge too far. But here’s an idea: Suppose we just use the means at our disposal here, while we still live in a country where freedoms are cherished, to discuss political issues?

Like whether cracking down on Syrian immigration to the U.S. is a proper response to a terror attack in Paris carried out by young people born and raised in France. We can play it straight, or use sarcasm and humor, or irony, whatever. And maybe we could make an attempt, some tiny attempt, to understand other positions, and not poison free debate with a morass of shrieks, hurt feelings and calls for silence.

As it happens, I am in our nation’s capital, attending a fund-raiser which benefits cartoonists who labor in countries where political cartooning isn’t quite so appreciated, shall we say. Where calls to silence dissent are serious, where people’s reactionary impulse to quiet their perceived enemies has deadly consequences.

This is a great job, in a great country, where freedom of speech is celebrated and satire and ridicule have deep roots, upheld at every turn by a broad and thoughtful Constitution and an open-minded court system. Unlike, say, Iran or Syria, where questioning the leadership is met with fury and worse.

Thanks for reading the paper. I welcome your feedback.

Reach Herald-Leader cartoonist Joel Pett at jpett@herald-leader.com.