Jack Ohman, as a nineteen-year-old undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in 1980, earned the distinction of being the youngest American cartoonist to have his work nationally syndicated. Upon graduating, he was hired at once by the Columbus Dispatch, and after brief spells there and at the Detroit Free Presss, settled down at the Portland Oregonian, where, for nearly thirty years, he acquired nearly every significant award for a political cartoonist short of the Pulitzer Prize, and saw his work syndicated in publications across the world.
Last year, after being shortlisted as a Pulitzer finalist, he moved to the Sacramento Bee, where he supplements his drawing by writing a blog at the paper’s site. Last week, he discussed a dinner he attended at the Oregon Historical Society, which featured a talk by David Eisenhower about his grandfather, America’s thirty-fourth President.
Also present at the dinner was a visitor from up north in Washington state – President Nixon’s younger brother Ed.
Ohman’s political views, like those of practically every American editorial-page cartoonist born after 1940 except for the late great Jeff MacNelly, lean toward the liberal – but this did not hinder him from finding common ground when he met and talked with Ed:
Nixon, a geologist and global energy expert, as well as a former Naval Reserve Captain, is a charming and humorous dinner companion, who I found to be utterly compelling as a conversation partner. While living in the shadow of his brother, whom he reveres (“my father was the disciplinarian, but Dick was my mentor,” he said, matter of factly), Nixon has carved out a place for himself that shows him as his own man, and yet protective of the positive aspects of his brother’s legacy, and, frankly, there are many. For his part, Nixon himself didn’t go to China himself until ten years after his brother’s opening to China in 1972, but he has since been back thirty times.
And what do you think he told the Chinese?
He lectures them about the need to reduce their carbon output. Now, if that isn’t counter-intuitive, I don’t know what is, but he does. He is widely versed in a myriad of subjects, from energy to electric cars to foreign affairs. He serves as the chairman of the Nixon Presidential Library board. He has a lovely self-deprecating sense of humor, and was at the elbow of his brother in many key moments in American history, from his brother’s nomination as Vice President in 1952, to be being integrally involved in the president’s election campaign in 1968. His physical resemblance to the 37th president is striking. He is a very tall, handsome man with a rangy frame and quick hands.
Ohman writes this of David Eisenhower’s talk:
Eisenhower is academic and quick, and gave a fine performance. He spoke of his boyhood as the General’s grandson, and how the former President was a rather stern taskmaster, paying him a quarter an hour for labor on the General’s farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Eisenhower’s father, John S.D. Eisenhower, is still a very active 91, and a noted military historian in his own right. He observed in his own memoir that he was born “standing at attention.” For his part, David Eisenhower wrote a history book about his grandfather that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, no mean feat, I can assure you. It’s a very tough category.
Way tougher than editorial cartooning.
After reflecting on the divisions that sometimes seem so hard to overcome in America’s political life – and which, of course, often provide such vast material for the barbs of the cartoonist – Ohman concludes:
National reconciliation is possible. The Nixon and Eisenhower family has lived it and practiced it.
In Ed Nixon’s words last night, that was the most important thing of all, that we are Americans first and ought to act that way.
Simple, yes, but hard to execute.
But if everyone saw and heard what I saw last night, maybe this country would be a bit better off.