New book illustrates quest for US health reform through more than 100 years of political cartoons

Date: Oct 22 2012

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Washington, D.C., October 22, 2012  In an engaging new historical book published by APHA Press, “ The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History” recounts the chronology of efforts to reform the U.S. health system through the lens of political cartoons published as early as the 19th century through passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Co-authored by American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD; medical historian Theodore M. Brown, PhD; Susan Ladwig, MPH; and Elyse Berkman, “The Quest for Health Reform” adds narrative to more than 100 years of selected caricatures, extending from famous 1870s editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast — who drew the elephant that remains a symbol for the Republican Party — to modern artists such as Mike Luckovich, who parodies U.S. Presidents Harry S. Truman, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“I’ve always appreciated how editorial cartoons can tell a story so succinctly, in a way the written word cannot,” Benjamin said. “Health reform in America has repeated a cycle of themes, falsehoods and criticisms. The imagery in this book explains how these beliefs and ideologies evolved over time with sentiments that words struggle to convey.”

The cartoons show the evolution of American health reform ideologies, specifically concentrating on leading political figures and institutions. Recognized events throughout U.S. history are chronicled throughout the book, including the American Medical Association’s critique of “state medicine” in the 1920s and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

Notable editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press provided a foreword for the book and is one of nine Pulitzer Prize winners whose works are featured, including Nick Anderson, Herb Block, Luckovich, Mike Peters, Joel Pett, Ann Telnaes, Signe Wilkinson and Matt Wuerker.

“You see, unlike most journalists, we cartoonists aren’t held to the same standards of objectivity and impartiality. One part reporter and one part advocate, an editorial cartoonist isn’t merely an observer of the public debate, but an active participant in it, as well,” Bennett wrote in the foreword.

As Brown describes in an interview with University of Rochester (N.Y.), “I have used cartoons in my lectures and my presentations for years. I’ve always found them very effective at conveying messages very succinctly [and] taking complex political circumstances and reducing them to some basic dynamics that we need to understand to see recurring patterns.”

In the book’s preface, Benjamin described his inspiration for the book as a moment he sat in the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute in New York City — where former President Franklin D. Roosevelt began conceiving the Social Security Act of 1935. At the time, Benjamin was serving as the Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Health at Hunter College.

“The Affordable Care Act was in its earliest stages of implementation and I was concerned that people did not seem to understand what the benefits were, but, most importantly, I was often surprised to hear people refer to health reform as though it was a new idea. I thought we needed a new way to tell the story,” Benjamin said.

Book Ordering Information: Available now, published by APHA Press, “The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History,” ISBN:978-0-87553-020-8, softcover, 212 pages. List price: $26.50, plus shipping and handling (APHA member price: $18.50). To order, call toll-free 888-320-APHA; fax 888-361-APHA; e-mail APHA press or visit the APHA Bookstore.

Requests for a review copy should be sent by email to David Hartogs.

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The American Public Health Association is the foremost publisher of public health-related books and periodicals promoting high scientific standards, action programs and public policy for good health.