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For editorial cartoonists, Obama's ears are his signature. In some depictions, they've grown throughout the years, but Matt Wuerker says cartoonists have gotten lazy. "We did the same thing to George W. Bush. By the end of his administration he was just Dumbo." (Courtesy of Matt Wuerker/Politico)

For Cartoonists Who Cover Obama: Four More Ears

by Alison MacAdam
Jan 18, 2013 (All Things Considered)

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Scott Stantis calls himself a conservative, and his cartoons frequently criticize President Obama. But for the inauguration in 2009, he simply chose to mark the moment as historic. Matt Wuerker borrowed the concept of "ústanding on the shoulders of giants"Ě in his cartoon for the inauguration in 2009. Scott Stantis says the issues the president faces haven't changed, so he plans to continue critiquing government spending in his cartoons.

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Four years ago, when the nation's first African-American president was inaugurated, even conservative editorial cartoonists marked the moment with reverence.

As Scott Stantis, now of the Chicago Tribune, tells All Things Considered host Audie Cornish: "There are times in our history where we can just take half a step back from our partisanship and revel in the history and wonder of something."

Stantis' left-leaning peer, Matt Wuerker of Politico, concurs. "It was a very epic moment. I think that everybody was really suddenly embracing this moment of idealism."

But, says Wuerker: "Four years later, so much of that is gone."

President Obama would not be the first president to suffer a diminishment of his cartoon image over eight years in office. Jimmy Carter, says Stantis, "was diminished to about — he was standing about 3 1/2 feet tall. You had Bill Clinton, who just became this big, doughy, sensualist character." George W. Bush, he adds, "devolved into a demonic Keebler elf."

So what's happened to Obama's image?

Cartoonists were careful at first in their depictions of the president, fearful of racial sensitivities, Wuerker explains. But "Obama is now just another goofy guy that we get to have fun with and play with his big smile and make his ears bigger."

So what to do for Obama's second inaugural?

"I'm still flummoxed," says Wuerker, who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his work. "What was extraordinary four years ago is ordinary."

This weekend and Monday, when the president is inaugurated again, editorial cartoonists will be sketching and scribbling, trying to decide what story to tell and what symbolism to use, as a president besieged by critics on both sides begins his second four years in the White House.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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