Political cartoonists active during the administration of President Ronald Reagan often adopted a very condescending tone that was intended to portray Reagan as a simple-minded, virulently anti-communist warmonger. Additionally, some cartoonists exploited Reagan’s background as an actor (who continued to enjoy what some called jingoistic films) to further illuminate what they perceived as the cartoonish nature of his presidency.
When Ronald Reagan was elected president, he brought into office a hardline approach to foreign policy, something that was perceived as being lacking under his predecessor, President Carter. Carter’s presidency coincided with the Iranian Revolution and subsequent seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and a dangerous deterioration in the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union. This resulted in the Carter administration’s proposed build-up of nuclear weapons—a build-up that rivaled that supported by the incoming administration of President Reagan. Additionally, some films produced during this period played into President Reagan’s image amongst many liberals as a buffoon overly influenced by muscular imagery, such as that depicted by Sylvester Stallone in his film about a muscular Vietnam veteran and special forces legend named John Rambo. When Rambo was released in 1982, therefore, political cartoonist Steve Greenberg drew a cartoon that showed a series of shirtless warriors, beginning with the Rambo character holding a machine gun, followed by Reagan (also holding a machine gun), and then devolving into ever greater levels of parody ending with depictions of the Marx Brothers.
Another cartoon depicting Reagan as a foreign policy novice and buffoon was published by Bill Schorr. Schorr’s imagery also emphasized what he viewed as the president’s dimwittedness and ignorance on foreign policy. Tony Auth, who contributed political cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer, often depicted Reagan’s conduct of foreign policy in a demeaning manner intended to make the president appear foolish, excessively harsh on communism, and vile, as in a cartoon showing a particularly strict-looking Reagan sitting under a map of the world in which communist countries dominated the globe.
What most political cartoons depicting the Reagan Administration’s conduct of foreign policy sought to convey was a sense of a country governed by an amateurish and dangerously hawkish chief executive, in way over his head.