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I saw that Bob Moran made this political cartoon that he posted on Twitter:

A cartoon with witches being burnt at the stake

When I first saw this cartoon, I assumed it was poking fun at the "False Balance" AKA "bothsidesism" argument that is usually deployed in conservative circles. Also I see that it was copyrighted by The Democracy Fund (bottom left) which is a left leaning charitable organization.

However, from what I understand, Bob Moran is pretty right leaning/libertarian. So whats going on here? Am I misunderstanding the cartoon? Or am I incorrect about Bobs political leanings?

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  • Let me reiterate earlier comment which was a request for clarification: Has Bob Moran himself said anything about the meaning of his cartoon? Ultimately only be can know for sure, what he means. Nov 9, 2022 at 6:10

5 Answers 5

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The cartoon seems to be a response to an article in The Atlantic, "Let's Declare a Pandemic Amnesty". The article pleads to not judge too harshly the people who advocated or imposed stringent measures against COVID, especially the measures taken in the early days of the pandemic, which sometimes proved to be ineffective or over the top.

Bob Moran seems to be very much on the side of the various groups that opposed (and still oppose) those measures. These groups have likened some of the measures to a witch hunt, especially the measures targeting individuals on basis of what measures (such as masking, vaccinating) those individuals took, for instance mandating masks at various places such as schools and stores.

His cartoon should be understood in light of this. The women being burned at the stake represent the people who opposed the measures, while the witch hunters represent the government that imposed the measures, the entities (businesses, schools) that enforced them, and the people who adhered to them and called out others for not adhering.
His point being that amnesty means nothing to the (in his view) victims.

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    While generally accurate, this significantly understates the harm that the "witch" side believes was done.
    – fectin
    Nov 9, 2022 at 12:07
  • @fectin I'm not sure how I should address that, other than stating that it was likened to a witch hunt, which seems pretty severe to me already.
    – SQB
    Nov 10, 2022 at 14:16
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An article recently came out in the Atlantic magazine entitled Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty. This article advocated for "political amnesty" for the perhaps over the top responses to the covid pandemic that included extensive lockdowns and remote learning for children. The article has been widely and wildly attacked by right wing media, for example, No Amnesty for Pandemic Tyranny, and of course, Fox News (starting at about 2:40 into the video).

Bob Moran lost his job at The Daily Telegraph due to his own over the top views on the British response to the pandemic. He was and remains very much on the anti-lockdown / antivax side of the pandemic divide. He joined the Democracy Fund because even though they are somewhat left leaning, they also are very strongly pro freedom. Were mistakes made on both sides? Based on his political cartoons, Bob Moran would most likely say the only mistakes that were made were in the form of excessive lockdowns, mandatory vaccines, and mandatory remote learning.

Regarding the Atlantic article that triggered all of this, I suspect the call in that article for "pandemic amnesty" is a proactive response to the expected Republican majority in the US House of Representatives. They will almost certainly take aim on three targets: Hunter Biden and Joe Biden -- and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – CDJB
    Nov 8, 2022 at 9:28
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While I think SQB and others have sewn up the main reason for the cartoon, they missed the underlying problem the article seems to want to gloss over: the open attacks (and sometimes downright demonization) of people who favored less pandemic restrictions. We're not talking about minor issues where people were preaching caution and merely disagreeing with decisions. We're talking full-blown "The sky is falling!" rhetoric that sought to not just persuade, but openly punish people who were not on board with anything trying to keep people "safe", regardless of the impact of said policies.

The Atlantic, in particular, would probably prefer it if we just all forgot about their April 2020 article entitled Georgia's Experiment in Human Sacrifice, about Georgia being one of the first states to begin reopening after the hard shutdowns of March 2020. The byline is equally fiery

The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy.

This wasn't some minor piece from one author. This was from their main magazine, and the implications were fairly extreme

Few people in Georgia are eager to be a case study in pandemic exceptionalism, but many won’t have a choice. Jillian Yeskel, the stylist in Roswell, whose Trump-supporting parents voted for Kemp, said she’d had conversations with them in the past week that she couldn’t have dreamed of a few months ago. “I’d assumed they’d support anything Kemp had to say,” she told me. “I talk to my mom every day, and we’re both just so upset with him.”

The article also insinuated Georgia governor Kemp was doing this for racist reasons, and that minorities would bear the brunt of this "sacrificial decision". The actual numbers, however, showed no such sacrifice, something even detractors had to admit

Georgia was the first state to start reopening its economy after shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the shelter-in-place order expired on April 30, a lot of experts and much of the public worried about the worst: a sustained spike in Covid-19 cases that would overwhelm emergency rooms and lead to a surge in deaths.

Yet more than a month later, the worst hasn’t arrived.

Georgia would see spikes later, but not excessive relative to how other states (and even the world) with stricter rules were seeing. That's what makes the Atlantic article so infuriating to some: they want to pretend it didn't happen

The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.

There are some hard political conversations that need to be had here. Dr Anthony Fauci, for instance, one one of the leading US voices during the pandemic, due to his position in the National Institute of Health. But Fauci openly admitted he was doling advice out based on where he thought the politics were

When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent ... Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, "I can nudge this up a bit," so I went to 80, 85. We need to have some humility here .... We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I'm not going to say 90 percent.

Mind you, these sorts of things erode confidence, especially when people are using such statements to do things like extend lockdowns or close schools (Bill de Blasio, then mayor of New York City, at one point, threatened to permanently close any house of worship that tried to reopen). An on-point rebuttal made this point

But the questions in the pandemic were not just factual disputes about a disease that was evolving quickly. They were also disputes about whether the Bill of Rights mattered anymore. Think of Bill de Blasio, telling Christians, Jews, and other religious believers that they had to abide by the city’s rule against gatherings of ten or more people, even as he himself was violating these rules in public support of the George Floyd protests.

Trying to just say (as the comic does) "mistakes were made on both sides" after you've burned people at the stake misses the problem of how you got there at the first place.

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    The question is not about the Atlantic article, or whether the cartoon is "justified", it's about what the cartoon refers to. I think David Hammen's answer explains that adequately, and going into detailed examples for one side of the argument doesn't really add anything.
    – IMSoP
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:04
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    @IMSoP You're right, it's not about The Atlantic. Neither is my answer. There is a broader issue issue there, which I went into in detail. I just used The Atlantic as exhibit A, since they were the ones who wrote the original article.
    – Machavity
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:10
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    I don't really see how this is "a broader issue"; everything in this answer is just an expanded example of one side of the debate which David Hammen's answer succinctly summarises. I'm sure someone could write just as long an answer about the other side of the debate, or a point by point refutation of this one, but that's not what we're here for.
    – IMSoP
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:15
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    I think you missed that Hammen summarizes his side: that Bob Moran is an anti-vax supporter and only the "right wingers" support the view that anyone was burned in effigy. If The Atlantic had been alone with this sort of denunciation it would be one thing, but they were not. I do agree they want to blunt Republican criticism, but there are more issues than a mere disagreement (as Mr Deblasio's statement proves).
    – Machavity
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:26
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    Other than that one word "anti-vaxers", I find the answer pretty well balanced, and nothing in this answer feels like it is "missing" from the other, it's just a lot of details about the "stringent measures" mentioned, which I don't find particularly relevant to the cartoon, and therefore the question.
    – IMSoP
    Nov 8, 2022 at 18:02
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Assuming that the people in the Twitter thread interpret the cartoon in the way it was meant, the cartoon is about the critical analysis of the mainstream approach to Covid, seen from the perspective of the anti-vaxxers.

The idea is roughly as follows:

  1. Mainstream sources are discussing aspects in which the response to Covid was not perfect.
  2. To admit that the mainstream approach was not perfect is, in their logic, tantamount to claiming equivalence between it and the anti-vaxxers.
  3. This strawman claim of "fault on both sides" is then attacked by the cartoon, with the implication being that anti-vaxxers were actually innocent of making the pandemic worse.
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  • What does the comic have to do with the democracy fund?
    – Nova
    Nov 7, 2022 at 1:35
  • @Nova He now works for The Democracy Fund. They pay his salary. In exchange for that salary, he assigns copyright to that group. Nov 7, 2022 at 8:03
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    The cartoon has nothing that leads me to associate it with COVID. Is there some talk of "amnesty" relative to COVID that I haven't yet encountered, or is there some other context that suggests this connection?
    – phoog
    Nov 7, 2022 at 8:19
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    @phoog See my answer. Emily Oster recently (31 Oct 2022) wrote an article that advocated for "pandemic amnesty". This article triggered a strong negative response on the right. The almost certain Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives will almost certainly result in a pillorying of Dr. Anthony Fauci starting next January. Nov 7, 2022 at 8:24
  • You may be missing a point between 1 and 2 (or before 1): The mainstream were/are heavily criticising anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdowners. This better explains the claimed equivalence from point 2.
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:38
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Depending on where you live, COVID measures were quite drastic.

People lost their jobs, businesses went bankrupt, children and young adults had lots of psychological problems, sometimes even attempted suicide (I personally know of 2 such cases, a neighbor and a nephew). Medical checks and procedures were canceled or postponed, sometimes leading to death.

So there was a lot of collateral damage, often irreversible, like burning witches at the stake.

Another aspect is that critics (e.g. pointing out the above) felt there was some kind of witch hunt going on against them. Derogatory and dehumanizing names (e.g. "plaguerats") were used to silence critics. Some also lost their reputation, job or business as a result.

A call for amnesty might be interpreted as:

  • people are aware of these cases
  • some fear that they might be found guilty
  • some things might not even be known to the public yet

"Mistakes were made" is a classic attempt to defuse guilt.

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    Note that the "plaguerats" and "looney-brigade" derogations were edited out of the currently accepted answer by a moderator. Nov 7, 2022 at 15:07
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    Could you perhaps expand your answer to explain the context of the cartoon a little more? I get the witch hunt link, but who is portrayed as calling for amnesty/saying mistakes were made? Governments in general, or is there a specific actor that Moran is referring to? Is there any particular significance of the puritan outfits?
    – CDJB
    Nov 8, 2022 at 9:25

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