I can tell from the ridiculous negative campaign ads and 3rd grade rhetoric that it’s election time again. Funny how the very process that helps define this great nation turns us into evil little farts every November. It never fails: The finger pointing, the name calling, the innuendos, the cheap shots. So and so didn’t pay their taxes on time. So and so lets rapists go free. So and so secretly hates Americans. So and so is corrupt. (Wow, really? A corrupt politician? No way! Where?!?!?!?!?)
As a political science major turned brand management guy, this time of year always makes me a little sad. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in mass media campaigns to put some of the dumbest, meanest, most unremarkable shills on the planet in positions of relative power. This year’s selection is particularly painful to fathom, especially the bizarre band of quasi-illiterate anti-federalist nominees now refusing to “grant” interviews or take questions from the free press. My beef here isn’t political. I am neither Republican nor Democrat (or perhaps I manage to be both, depending on the issue or the context). But man, some of these people make me shake my head in disbelief. Strange that in a Republic that so values freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, so many of these “candidates” should refuse to work with the press, answer simple questions in an open forum, or address some of the batty statements they have made over the last six months leading to these elections. How did we get to a point where some of the dumbest, least educated, most openly racist people on the planet – people who seem to have no understanding of the very Constitution they seem so bent on “protecting” from the clutches of actual constitutional scholars, find themselves in a position to help decide whether the United States catches up to the rest of the world and gets back in the race, or veers off course to become the unfortunate fulfillment of a Margaret Atwood novel.
At any rate, while every other candidate is busy dragging his or her opponent in the mud and selling mindless buzzwords to their cheering fans, I thought I would inject a little culture and history into the whole process by sharing with you the origin of the Republican and Democratic parties’ emblems: The elephant and the ass (respectively). It won’t solve any of our economic and policy woes, but it might breathe a few little IQ points back into the overall political narrative. Maybe. (One can hope.) From From William Safire’s New Language of Politics, Revised edition, Collier Books, New York, 1972, via freerepublic.com:
The symbol of the party (the elephant) was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874
An 1860 issue of Railsplitter and an 1872 cartoon in Harper’s Weekly connected elephants with Republicans, but it was Nast who provided the party with its symbol.
Oddly, two unconnected events led to the birth of the Republican Elephant. James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald raised the cry of “Caesarism” in connection with the possibility of a thirdterm try for President Ulysses S. Grant. The issue was taken up by the Democratic politicians in 1874, halfway through Grant’s second term and just before the midterm elections, and helped disaffect Republican voters.
While the illustrated journals were depicting Grant wearing a crown, the Herald involved itself in another circulation-builder in an entirely different, nonpolitical area. This was the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874, a delightful hoax perpetrated by the Herald. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York’s Central Park in search of prey.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of the Herald enterprise and put them together in a cartoon for Harper’s Weekly. He showed an ass (symbolizing the Herald) wearing a lion’s skin (the scary prospect of Caesarism) frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park). The caption quoted a familiar fable: “An ass having put on a lion’s skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings.”
One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant, representing the Republican vote – not the party, the Republican vote – which was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon on November 21, 1874, after the election in which the Republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance. Other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the party itself: the jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing the Herald to representing the Democratic party that had frightened the elephant.
Now you know.
Wondering if maybe political logos like the ass and the elephant are still the best emblems to represent political parties that neither look nor sound like they did back in 1874, I asked a few friends to suggest new emblems for the parties, and this is what they came up with:
Star Trek and beer. I may have to broaden my focus group just a tad.