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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Donkeys, Elephants and Pandas. Oh my!

Election day is almost here and I'm definitely going to the polls to vote for my favorite candidates. I hope they win, but I'm also genuinely looking forward to having the whole thing over and done with. As a former Political Science major, though, I've got to admit that I'm always interested in the political process and the ways that candidates represent themselves to the public.

This morning, as I was returning home from church, I drove past an interesting thing: a giant inflatable panda holding a campaign sign. "A panda?" I asked myself, "Did I see that right?" Donkeys and elephants are no surprise, but what polical party uses a panda? Thoughts began to whiz through my brain. I whipped around the block and pulled out my cell phone for a quick picture, just so you would know that I'm wasn't hallucinating.


Sitting at the stop sign, I saw that this was the campaign headquarters for three borough council hopefuls who, it turns out, are Republicans. "Why, then, the panda?" I continued to wonder. Perhaps, because Dumont is a solidly "blue" town, these candidates didn't want to use the elephant out of concern that it might alienate democrats who might vote for them. Maybe, because the candidates are styling themselves as reformers, they didn't want to depict themselves as too closely allied with the party that has held the U.S. Presidency for the last eight years.

I have to admit that I don't know anything substantative about any of the Dumont First candidates or, for that matter, about their opponents. I am entirely ignorant of the local politics in Dumont. I couldn't care less who wins those borough council seats. Still, that panda bothered me. As I drove home, I began to free-associate.
  1. Pandas come from China, so maybe the Dumont First people were trying to suggest that the Chinese government was endorsing them. Probably not.

  2. Pandas are an endangered species. Could it be that the Dumont First group is trying to say that environmental protection is at the top of their agenda. I kind of doubt it.

  3. One of the Olympic mascots was a panda, so maybe they were using a panda to carry some of the Olympic spirit to their campaign. Could be.
  4. Maybe the campaign folks wanted to have a big, tacky inflatable thing on their lawn to attract attention, but weren't able to find much that wasn't an obvious Halloween or Christmas decoration. Bingo!

Then I began playing word games and that's where the panda poo really hit the fan, so to speak. Maybe this unfortunate political mascot wasn't a panda bear at all, but a "pander bear." Perhaps the group's slogan was "We'll panda to your special interest." Of course, no politican would actually be so brazen as to actually use a slogan like that -- even if it were true!

Still, the whole thing got me thinking. Symbols shouldn't be chosen lightly. Even though Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the United States' national bird, the bald eagle won out. The industrious beaver is Canada's national symbol. Russia has the bear. England's symbol is the lion. India uses a tiger. Even mythological creatures are represented by Scotland's unicorn and China's dragon. Those are all good choices.

Political party mascots should be chosen carefully, too. The origins of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant lay with political cartoonist Thomas Nast, rather than with the parties, themelves, but they are sturdy symbols. Teddy Roosevelt chose the bull moose as his party's symbol. The Libertarians use a penguin and the Independence Party of Missouri have a buffalo.

If I were to pick a mascot for a political party, what would I pick? I can think of a whole bunch of really bad choices: a weasel; a raccoon, with its bandit's mask; a flounder; a snake? My problem, though, is that I don't think I could find giant, inflatable varieties to put up in front of my campaign headquarters. I might end up with something like Snoopy flying his doghouse, but I certainly wouldn't pick a panda.

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