Carter: Politics according to Calvin and Hobbes

Growing up, my first introduction to newspapers, like most kids, was the funny pages. I was particularly drawn to Bill Watterson’s comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes,” about a boy and his stuffed tiger.

The comic stuck with me well into my teenage years – for a freshman year art project on calligraphy in which we were required to pick a favorite quote, I chose the punchline from a strip where Calvin notes that “Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.”


More recently, I was re-introduced to Calvin and Hobbes through a Twitter feed that posts the old comics almost daily, and as an adult, my appreciation for just how great that comic was has increased.

The philosophical musings of 6-year-old Calvin and his imaginary friend/plush toy hold up, tackling some pretty heady topics for a mere comic strip, ranging from theology, the meaning of life and death, and unconditional love, without ever seeming preachy.

Earlier this week, my Twitter feed produced a comic that I don’t remember from my childhood, but perfectly illustrated a conversation about the current state of politics — and writing about them — I was having with my father-in-law just a few days earlier.

Calvin, the mischievous child that he is, is trying justify not completing his homework reading assignment when he says to Hobbes, “The more you know, the harder it is to take decisive action. Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray. You realize nothing is as simple as it first appears. Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.

“As a man of action, I can’t take that risk,” Calvin says, tossing his text book, as Hobbes remarks, “You’re ignorant, but at least you act on it,” rolling his eyes.

Opinion writing I’ve often found to be the hardest part of my job. It’s easy to have an opinion about something until you start arming yourself with facts and arguments from both sides of the issue, as well as perspectives from people who have experienced life differently than you have.

Considering different perspectives can make you seem wishy-washy and reluctant to take a stance. Sometimes, you can still come out of it with a side you believe to be more true or better path to follow.

Politicians, I find, too often see the world as black and white — or perhaps blue and red is more accurate — than those intricate shades of gray. It becomes far easier to plant your flag in the ground and not waver when you can ignore well-informed points from the other side.

Throughout the lifespan of Calvin and Hobbes, it was the ornery child who despite being incredibly intelligent, played the role of absolutist, stubborn in his views — viewing the world in black and white, right and wrong, as children often do — while his feline friend often grounded him with wisdom and perspective in the final panel.

Much has been made of the polarization of politics in America over the past year, the eight years before that, and in the centuries that preceded the last two presidents. As conservatives move further to the right and progressives further to the liberal left, more resolute than ever in their convictions, we need a force to ground them, to help them see shades of gray and — gasp — compromise from time to time.

Meanwhile, I came across this gem where Calvin is writing a fundraising letter (which a political cynic like me might argue is the lifeblood of politics as we know it), where he notes: “The secret to getting donations is to depict everyone who disagrees with you as the enemy, then you explain how they’re systematically working to destroy everything you hold dear. It’s a war of values! Rational discussion is hopeless! Compromise is unthinkable! Our only hope is well-funded antagonism, so we need your money to keep up the fight.

“Enmity sells,” he concludes.

Perhaps that’s something to keep in mind as the 2018 election ramps up and candidates start begging for donations to “help the cause.”

Where’s Hobbes when we need him?