Mazzuca: Party animals " our political mascots |

Mazzuca: Party animals " our political mascots

When his opponents began calling him a “jackass” for his populist views, President Andrew Jackson decided to turn the insult into a benefit; and soon the strong-willed animal was appearing on Jackson’s campaign posters. Later, after he had won the election, the donkey was used to represent his stubbornness.

But it wasn’t until 1837 that the donkey was actually used in a political cartoon to represent the Democrats as a party. Jackson was retired in 1837, but he still considered himself the party’s leader, and was depicted in a cartoon trying to prod the donkey to go where he wanted the animal to go.

Interestingly enough, the person credited with making the donkey the symbol of Democratic Party probably had no knowledge of the prior associations. Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist first used the donkey in an 1870 Harper’s Weekly cartoon. Nast intended the donkey to represent an anti-war faction, with whom he disagreed. But the symbol caught the public’s fancy and the cartoonist continued using it to represent various Democrats. Later, before presidents were limited to two terms, Nast used the donkey to portray Democratic uneasiness over a possible third term for Ulysses S. Grant.

A cartoon titled “The Third Term Panic,” showed animals representing various issues running away from a donkey. The elephant labeled “The Republican Vote,” was about to run into a pit containing inflation, chaos and repudiation. Although the elephant had been connected with the Republican Party in cartoons that appeared as early as 1860, it was Nast’s 1874 cartoon, published by Harper’s Weekly that solidified the elephant as the Republican emblem. Meanwhile, by 1880 the donkey was well-established as a mascot for the Democratic Party.

But there have been aberrations in some Midwestern states, to wit: early in the 20th century the Democrats used a rooster as their emblem in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Oklahoma, while the Republicans used an eagle. Additionally, for the majority of the 20th century, Missouri Democrats used the Statue of Liberty as their ballot emblem. While this may not seem big deal, it did cause quite a bit of confusion when Libertarian candidates received ballot access in Missouri in 1976 because their national symbol was Statue of Liberty.

To avoid further confusion Missouri Libertarians eventually settled on the Liberty Bell as their ballot emblem ” at least until the “mule” became Missouri’s official state animal in 1995. Ever flexible, the Libertarians did the logical thing and began using the donkey on their ballots. Obviously voters were a bit bemused because between 1995 and 2004 the Democratic ticket was marked with the Libertarian Statue of Liberty, while the Libertarians used the Democrats’ donkey.

Democrats will tell you the donkey is humble, smart, courageous and loveable, while the Republicans regard the donkey as stubborn, silly and ridiculous. On the other hand, the Republicans think the elephant is dignified, strong and intelligent while the Democrats think of the elephant as bungling, stupid, and conservative ” I’ll let you make the call.

Nevertheless, the above may become academic as we move away from the traditional donkey and elephant symbols during national election coverage on TV because the talking heads now refer to states as being either red or blue. Time was though, when some television networks used red for the Democrats and blue for the Republicans while other networks reversed the colors. But that changed on election night 2000 when the color blue became identified with the Democratic Party and the color red became identified with the Republican Party. That night, was the first time all major broadcast television networks used the same color scheme electoral map: blue states for Al Gore and red states for George W. Bush.

No one knows what will happen next November, but this much is certain. The 2008 election promises to go well beyond donkeys and elephants because the mainstream media will do its self-appointed job and create a circus atmosphere. Fortunately though, it’ll be a red, white and blue circus.

Quote of the Day: “Vote early, vote often.” “Unnamed Chicago City Alderman

Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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