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His Pen Drips Acid

With the rhetoric in the political campaign heating up as the primaries approach, politicians are starting to take off the gloves for the tough campaign ahead.

The Early Show's Jon Frankel has been spending some time with a man who has been a bare-fisted fighter in the political arena for 40 years now.


His name is Pat Oliphant, and you probably know his work. He's the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist who draws the most unflinching, critical and meanest political cartoons in the business.

In a profession that operates somewhere in between the editorial page and standup comedy, Oliphant considers satire to be one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of democracy.

Through seven administrations he has been reducing American president after American president to the most essential and least flattering characteristics.

"This is a sort of antagonistic sport really. As I believe about politicians, they're all guilty until proven innocent," Oliphant says.

Oliphant represents a tradition that for more than 100 years has served as a small check and balance in the democratic process, making us laugh and think at the same time, often at the politicians' expense.

"What does a cartoonist do? You stir things up," he says.

Soft spoken, almost courtly in person, the 64-year-old Australian expatriate is mean as a snake on paper. His most bitter complaint with most of the current crop of candidates is that they've committed the unpardonable sin of dullness.

"Gore and Bradley.Â…I drew them the other day as bookends," he notes.

Yet there has been an evolution in the candidates' characters.

"They start to look like their caricature after a while, and it works out very well," he says, while laughing.

Overall Oliphant says he doesn't want to be any politician's best friend.

"I stay away from politicians. That would be consorting with the enemy to hang out with them," he notes.

Oliphant regards Pat Buchanan and the Reform Party with malevolent delight.

"God bless them, you know. I'm glad they're there because they add an element of humor we badly need," he says, adding he cast his ballot one time while thinking of his work.

"I once voted for Reagan because I couldn't bear the thought of drawing Mondale for four years," he explains.


Oliphant's favorite target

But if Oliphant could choose one president to skewer and roast for all eternity, in the words of an old campaign slogan, "Nixon's the one."

"There was a sort of a natural dislike I had for Nixon that came out through his face...and his 5 o'clock shadow," he says.

Now that's a guy who passed away and lives on.

"Oh he's good for a couple of cartoons a year. He keeps cominback. I think he may be running," says Oliphant.

"He was fun. You got to say he was sorely missed...and then, there's always a new one," he adds.

Oliphant continues to have some fun with the current administration but sometimes it's been almost too easy, he says.

"I mean, how do you satirize satire? You can render Clinton fairly simply. I've tried a small nose and a big nose, and the big nose works," he says.

Word has filtered back to Oliphant that the leader of the free world is less than enamored of his work.

And of course, nothing makes the old troublemaker happier.

"Somebody said to him, 'Have you seen this cartoon?' and he said, 'I hate thoseÂ…things.' That was the best thing I've ever heard," he says, laughing.

Oliphant is really an equal opportunity insulter. In his view, there's more than enough blame to go around.

He is a man who loves to be hated. Churning out four cartoons a week for almost 400 newspapers across the country, Oliphant says he can't afford to have positive feelings about any of the candidates; that's not his job, he says.

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