Navickas, Ramirez equally thoughtless

Two items on the same opinion page of the Sunday (Jan. 18) issue of the Mail Tribune caught my attention. One was Paul Copeland's letter defending the recent anti-Bush shoe-throwing antics of Ashland's Eric Navickas as the act of a "real patriot." The other was Michael Ramirez's editorial cartoon of Hillary and Bill Clinton embraced by an oil-rich Arab sheik.

As different in political outlook as these two items may seem to many readers, I believe they are of a piece. Each, in its own way, is patently unfair and untrue.

Regarding the letter about Eric N.'s latest stunt: For the record, I'm definitely no fan of our (now ex-) president, George Bush. But to describe Ashland Councilman Navickas's latest in a long string of juvenile, self-consciously "radical" stunts as an act of patriotism is more than a stretch.

It's been interesting to follow Eric's career over the past few years. It's a career that, so far as I can tell, has been distinguished mainly by inveterate rudeness to those with whom he disagrees as well as by bombastically stated, frequently downright silly opinions on a multitude of topics. (These opinions have ranged from pontifications on the aesthetic failings of local architecture to personal attacks on people who support rational forms of forest conservation that would lessen the danger of massive wildfire in the city's watershed, and from childish burning of the flag to describing a group of two or three downtown landscaping trees as "an urban forest.")

Alas, Navickas has consistently shed far more heat than light on virtually every public issue he's concerned himself with. Like many people active in the public sphere today, Eric uses very strong words too easily and too often, thereby deflating their value. Very loosely paraphrasing the Bard, "Methinks such behavior doth not a patriot make."

The real patriotism our country desperately needs today will spring from qualities that include fairness, civility, patience and intelligence, not from self-righteousness, shallow thinking and the relentless seeking of the public spotlight.

The Ramirez cartoon of the Clintons with the Arab sheik, while a bit clever, displays the somewhat similar qualities of that particular "artist": profound unfairness to those with whom he disagrees, as well as casting a completely blind eye to, in his case, the profound failings of his own conservative political heroes. This is Ramirez's long-standing pattern. I can't recall his cartoons ever having pointed out the Bush family's well-known, long-term personal friendship and close financial relationship with Saudi Arabia's ruling royalty, the House of Saud. His latest cartoon is simply one more example of Ramirez's consistent partisan pettiness at work. Our recent presidential election brought forth many other examples, one of them what I believe to have been an outright lie in the form of a cartoon.

Over the years, many readers from the starboard side of the political spectrum have bitterly criticized the Tribune for featuring "liberal" cartoons such as Doonesbury and cartoonists such as Tom Toles. True, the political slant of their cartoons is often predictable. But at least they somewhat regularly take sharp pokes at liberal politicians as well. That's a mark of some maturity and fairness.

On the other hand, Ramirez is, at his best, simply a reliable political hack who can't ever bring himself to draw a true "zinger" cartoon of a conservative figure. At his worst, because of the cartoons' frequent personal viciousness, Ramirez is the Anne Coulter of political cartoonists. (Or Michael Savage, if one requires a male analogy.)

By all means, the Mail Tribune should not cancel Ramirez. Some readers crave their easily digested right-wing diet of raw, red meat. I have a hunch that many other readers, however, may instead be regularly reminded by Ramirez cartoons of why American conservatism has become ever less appealing over the past eight years, and especially why the extreme, bitter-end fringes of that faltering movement have become increasingly repellent to voters.

Thankfully, the First Amendment protects all our rights, including the rights of individuals who choose to make complete fools of themselves in public, and of artists who express themselves with as much malignance and untruth as they can muster. Although the Tribune will doubtless continue to feature stories about Eric Navickas and cartoons by Michael Ramirez, may its opinion pages increasingly include more thoughtful consideration of important issues than is provided by either of them.

Jeff LaLande lives in Ashland.

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