Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brands And Breeds And Subversive Deeds

Monday I suggested that maybe the time has come for a new political brand. Then I got to wondering how the donkey ever became the symbol of the Democrats and the elephant the emblem of the Republicans. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the answer came in no time.

The donkey's association with the Democrats dates all the way back to 1828. During Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign his opponents called him a jackass, which amused Jackson and inspired him to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. Later, cartoonist Thomas Nast used the Democratic donkey in newspaper cartoons and made the symbol famous.

Turns out Nast also had a hand in enshrining the Republican elephant. In an 1874 cartoon, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That's all it took for the elephant to become the enduring symbol of the Republican Party.

So here we are in the 21st Century and the logos of the two major political brands are 19th-Century creations. What exactly are their relevance in this day and age? Donkeys are known to be stubborn, not especially bright, but possess great endurance. Elephants are slow moving, powerful and are said to have long memories. Today neither animal does a thing for the average American. Wait a minute, maybe these are apt symbols after all.

If a compelling case for a new political brand is building – and I think it is, what with the swelling ranks of the politically homeless and their utter dissatisfaction with both major parties – then what should it be?

A good symbol needs to be familiar, instantly recognizable and memorable. And, well, symbolic. Sticking with the animal theme, what could be a better fit here in Wisconsin than the cow? Cows are synonymous with Wisconsin and our state's strong work ethic. They are a damn sight more useful day to day than either donkeys or elephants. They help nourish our children, and us grown ups too.

Imagine this new brand gets established and a whole new breed of candidates begin challenging Republicans and Democrats alike – not as a third party but as a first-party insurgency in GOP and Democratic primary elections. You can hear the rallying cries already. Put the Cow in the Capitol!  Kick Their Ass!  Throw the Trunk in the Junk!

There has to be substance behind the symbolism of a new brand. A new political breed needs to stand for something new and different. And it needs a name. Some thoughts on that tomorrow....

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