Public Comment

Commentary: Worst Kind of Demagoguery

By Mark Tarses
Friday October 05, 2007


Editors, Daily Planet: 

The Daily Planet should be deeply ashamed of the political cartoon that appeared in this newspaper on Sept. 28, depicting Berkeley landlords as a pack of vicious dogs. On the dog’s collars is written: “Berkeley’s Anti-Rent Control Landlords.” The dogs in this cartoon all have sharpened teeth and tongues hanging out. They are salivating and have an angry and dangerous look in their eyes. They are all looking at a steak labeled “Chris Kavanagh.” 

This is the worst and most dangerous kind of demagoguery. Throughout the sad history of the 20th Century, whenever governments or private organizations wished to stir up hatred against any group, it was nearly always preceded by political cartoons like this one—depicting the enemy as savage beasts. It is much easier to get people to condone and participate in acts of violence against your enemy if you first reduce them in people’s eyes to something inhuman and justifiably exterminated. 

During World War I, U.S. government propaganda posters depicted Germans as “The Beastly Hun,” a savage Neanderthal-like creature. During World War II, the Nazis depicted Jews as giant rats in their political cartoons. And growing up in the South in 1950s, I saw plenty of Ku Klux Klan cartoons depicting black people as gorillas, looking just like the dogs in the Planet cartoon of last Saturday, with sharpened teeth and a menacing look in their eyes. 

This is not a trivial matter. If history is any guide, depicting whole groups of people as savage, vicious beasts is a very dangerous thing. 

And finally, Berkeley landlords are not responsible for Chris Kavanagh’s legal troubles. Mr. Kavanagh is not a helpless victim or a lifeless object, like the steak in the Planet cartoon, having no responsibility for his misfortunes or control over his circumstances. Mr. Kavanagh is an intelligent and articulate man. He knew what he was doing when he ran for Berkeley rent control board claiming to be a Berkeley resident.