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Bush is a joker; Santorum is a queen

North Shore illustrator John Doherty didn’t pull any punches when he drew the caustic caricatures for the Bush House of Cards, a 56-card deck lampooning the Pentagon’s Iraqi " most-wanted " cards released last spring. There’s Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, snaggletoothed and cue-ball bald, rendered as Nosferatu’s Count Orlok (eight of clubs). There’s Christian Broadcasting Network top banana Pat Robertson skedaddling off to the bank with bloody money bags, presumably earned from his investments in African diamond mines (four of clubs). There’s Attorney General John Ashcroft holding aloft his own halo (ace of diamonds), GOP moralist William Bennett racking up three lemons on a slot machine labeled the " moral jackpot " (four of hearts), and online newshound Matt Drudge sniffing a toilet bowl beneath the proud declaration, " I go where the stink is! " Naturally, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are a pair of jester-hatted jokers.

The conception of retired journalist, media critic, and consumer-affairs crusader Arthur E. Rowse, the Bush House of Cards was conceived to parody the Defense Intelligence Agency’s awkward attempt to brief soldiers about the most-wanted officials from Saddam’s regime. Unlike other spoof sets that have relied on photos for face cards, Rowse wanted to use satirical caricatures to ridicule " the clowns and confederates of the Bush regime. " So after spotting John Doherty’s work on a national caricaturists’ Web site, Rowse asked the Boston-area illustrator — who’s doodled locally for 25 years, including a 16-year stint as house caricaturist at the Bull & Finch Pub — to join him on the project. Doherty thinks the collaboration has worked out well. " I’ve got more of a modern sensibility, " the fortysomething artist says, while Rowse " has more of a standard grounding in old-school journalism and the standards that existed in the pre-Drudge era. " Meaning that the toilet bowl was exclusively Doherty’s idea. ( " He thought it was a little stark, the idea of showing a toilet, " Doherty admits. " But I thought it was right on the money — Drudge trucks in that stuff. " )

In selecting candidates for the 54 face cards, there were obvious choices like Bush abettors Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and Andrew Card, plus conservative windbags like Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Ann Coulter. " They’re lightning rods that nearly everybody who is a moderate thinks are ideologues, " says Doherty. " They’re the equivalents to the left of what Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are to the right. " But not all the contenders were as categorically conservative as Gingrich or Lott. Like NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, who Rowse felt belonged in the deck after appearing in the Bush-butt-kissing program The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing, a 2002 television special about a day in the life of the White House. " It was like a two-hour commercial for Karl Rove, " Doherty says. " [Arthur] found it pretty galling — and I did too. "

Once they’d decided which panjandrums to include, they had to assign each a place in the regal hierarchy. Some were easy, like Cheney and Bush as jokers. Or like the four queens: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice pumping gas in a boiler suit (queen of diamonds); former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman drawn in front of soot-spewing smokestacks (queen of spades); Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton grinning maniacally and brandishing a chain saw (queen of clubs); and anti-gay demagogue US Senator Rick Santorum, stroking an anxious-looking pooch (queen of hearts). " To him, [homosexuality] was the same as if society had condoned bestiality, " Doherty points out. " Freud said if you’re really worried about that, maybe there’s a reason? "

A few figures were even dropped, like ABC’s Claire Shipman. " She was in our deck because of a faulty report that she’d given on ABC News. In fact-checking, [Arthur] actually discovered she wasn’t as culpable as we’d thought, so we didn’t think it was fair to include her. " Alas, Shipman’s eradication was a disappointment for Doherty — but not because he had an ax to grind. " She was one of the more attractive cards we had — most of these people are not beauty-pageant winners, " Doherty chuckles. " A face that’s classically beautiful — it’s a little bit more of a challenge to pull something off that’s haughty or works in a caricature. Grotesque is easier to cover in caricature — and there’s a lot of that in this deck. "

The Bush House of Cards costs $9.95 a set, plus $3 for shipping and handling. Visit www.bushhouseofcards.com

Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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