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Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist Paul Conrad dies at 86

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010

Paul Conrad, 86, a political cartoonist who won three Pulitzer Prizes by turning his outrage into journalistic art but who was even more proud of being named to the Nixon administration's enemies list during the Watergate era, died Sept. 4 at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. His family did not provide a cause of death.

Mr. Conrad spent most of his career at the Los Angeles Times, where he demanded and received the freedom to draw cartoons about any subjects he chose. Two of his favorite subjects were Californians who moved east to take up residence in the White House: Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Armed with superb drawing skills and a finely honed sense of moral indignation, Mr. Conrad took aim at pomposity, injustice and corruption. He had been merciless to President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, but after Nixon's election in 1968, Mr. Conrad became utterly scathing.

The day after the Watergate break-in came to light, Mr. Conrad drew Nixon, wearing a workman's belt, drilling a hole in the wall of the Democratic National Headquarters. "He says he's from the phone company," a bystander comments.

As the accusations against Nixon and his administration mounted, Mr. Conrad turned up the rhetorical heat, portraying the president as a shameless figure of arrogance and deceit. He drew a cartoon of a supine Nixon pinned down by audiotapes, like Gulliver among the Lilliputians.

While Nixon was president, Mr. Conrad's taxes were repeatedly audited, and he found himself on the notorious White House enemies list. Mr. Conrad responded with an illustration of Nixon glowering over his enemies list, above the title "His own worst enemy."

Mr. Conrad first shone a satiric light on Reagan in the 1960s, when the former actor was governor of California. He often showed Reagan as out of his depth, sometimes dressed as a clown.

Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler fielded many early-morning calls from Reagan or his wife, Nancy, objecting to Mr. Conrad's mocking portrayals.

Mr. Conrad ignored the criticism and the frequent death threats that he received.

"Don't ever accuse me of being objective," he often said.

When Reagan was elected president in 1980 and reelected four years later, Mr. Conrad was happy for one reason: He would never lack for ideas at the drawing board.

He cast the president in the role of "Reagan Hood," stealing from the poor to give to the rich. He summarized Reagan's foreign policy by depicting the president in a bathtub, with warships sailing behind a rubber ducky.

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