I worked as an artist in the sports department of the New York Daily News. The Yankees and Mets, the Giants and Jets, the Knicks and Nets were my daily targets. But one November evening in 1995, our editor in chief, Martin Dunn, wanted a political cartoon for Page One. I was on my way out the door, ready to take my young son to a basketball game. Instead, I spent a couple of hours with my pen and paintbrush adding a diaper, a baby bottle and a few fat teardrops to the exaggerated features of a grown man. The cartoon would become part of America’s shutdown lore.
The man was Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House. That morning at a breakfast, he copped to forcing a government shutdown, then in its second day, because of a petty grievance. He had returned from Israel a week earlier with President Bill Clinton and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Together they’d attended the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister. Unlike the presidents, Gingrich (R-Ga.) was made to exit from the rear of Air Force One. The News’s Washington columnist, Lars-Erik Nelson, had the scoop.
At the breakfast, Nelson reported, Gingrich held forth, candidly expressing his outrage over the snub on the recent trip. “Here was Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican Revolution and defender of civilization on this planet, forced to sit for 25 hours in the back of Air Force One, waiting for President Clinton to stop by and negotiate a budget deal,” Nelson wrote. He waited in vain. And so the government shut down. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty,” Gingrich said at the breakfast, “but I think it’s human. When you land at Andrews and you’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp . . . you just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?”
Dunn already had his headline when I got the assignment: “Cry Baby.” My job was almost too easy. My brother took my son to the basketball game while I wrapped up the art.
Today, you’d say it went viral. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was then in the House — and now, as Senate minority leader, is a key player in the current shutdown — was one of several Democrats who exhibited a giant poster of our front page at the Capitol. (Worried Republicans quickly voted to have it removed. They said it violated House rules that forbid showing disrespect to the speaker.)
Mockery is a powerful instrument. Dunn said that before Nelson died, he called it one of the only front pages that changed politics. Gingrich’s political influence and reputation never recovered. He and his party were blamed for that shutdown, which ended within a couple of days but was followed by another less than a month later. That one lasted 21 days , the longest in U.S. history until the current one overtook it this weekend. Gingrich came to be seen — perhaps partly as a result of that cartoon — as a petulant contrarian and a hypocrite rather than a conservative visionary. Seventeen years later, when he ran for president, protesters carrying the “Cry Baby” poster followed him on the campaign trail.
My only regret is that I left the News in 2015 after 46 years, before Donald Trump became president. On Wednesday, Trump abruptly left a shutdown meeting with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “We saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Schumer told reporters afterward.
I’ve seen this cartoon before.
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