Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Best of Li'L Abner, by Al Capp (from the introduction) copyright 1978

I had grown up in days when anybody who ate regularly (the upper class) felt no responsibility for the poor souls who didn't, and helped them only out of human kindness. As I grew into the upper class, I became a liberal. We demanded that the unfortunate be given welfare, that their rent be paid, that they be given food benefits. We fought for all that, and slowly, painfully, we won. It was marvelous being a liberal in those days, because you were on the side of humanity.

What began to bother me, privately, was that, as things grew better, the empire of the needy seemed to grow larger. Somehow, they became entitled to government gifts other people couldn't get, such as people who worked. Yet, I remained a loyal liberal. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of liberalism. I spoke at liberal banquets in New York, Los Angeles, Washington. One day a lady photographer came to my studio and showed me a collection of Boston photographs. A publisher would publish them if only I would rattle off the captions. She had brought a tape recorder. Well, one doesn't turn down a lady liberal. The pictures were funny. My captions tried to be. And then we came to the last one. This one, she said, will break your heart. She showed me a picture of a city street. Garbage cans were tipped on the sidewalk. Bottles lined the gutters. On a porch sprawled a half dozen teenagers, drinking and smoking. The caption, I said, should be, "Get up off your asses and clean up your street!" The lady stormed out. I guess that was when I began leaving what liberalism had become.

My politics didn't change. I had always been for those who were despised, disgraced, an denounced by other people. That was what had changed. Suddenly it was the poor working bastard who was being denounced. He had always worked, his wife had always worked, his kids worked. At some point they bought a house in the suburbs. It was from his paycheck that the billions for welfare came. He never complained about it. But why were the others complaining about him? He was never a silent generation; he was a bewildered one. I knew that it would be terribly unsmart to say anything in his defense. But I knew that if I remained silent, I would die as a satirist. A satirist has only one gift: he sees where the fraud and fakery are. I turned around and let the other side have it.

It's been an exhilarating forty-three years.

Al Capp

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