The Animals:

It struck me again today, from some flyer I noticed lying around, how peculiar it is that our two major political parties are represented by (1) a donkey and (2) an elephant. There are reasons, I suspect, that one never hears of the University of X Donkeys playing the Y State Elephants on Saturday afternoons -- they're just two of the oddest damn animals around, and wouldn't seem, at first glace, to be portraying the kind of virtues one looks for in a political party. I think the portrayals capture, in a small way to be sure, some of the American dislike and distruct of politics, politicians, and political parties.

Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Hmmm ... If political parties adopt sports team mascots, then who should adopt the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs? Who should get the UC Irvine Anteaters? Or the Mighty Ducks?
10.3.2006 1:51pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
Any Tufts Jumbos fans going to take issue with this one?
10.3.2006 1:56pm
The Dood:
Obviously, you're not from the south. Alabama Crimson Tide?
10.3.2006 1:59pm
Southern in the City:
I thought the mascots came from the Nash charicatures in the 19th Century. I don't think that they were meant to be flattering.
10.3.2006 2:06pm
Southern in the City:
10.3.2006 2:09pm

Neither elephant nor donkey are indigenous to the USA. We are a nation of immigrants.

Both elephant and donkey are capable of strong and raucous vocalizations.

Both have longstanding reputations for sometimes being stubborn and uncontrollable by their masters or tenders.

Both have longstanding reputations for irrational behavior. Donkeys reputedly will chase the carrot suspended on a string from a stick by the rider or tender. Elephants reputedly panic when confronted by mice.

No doubt these creatures possess many other sterling qualifications as political party mascots.
10.3.2006 2:09pm
Tom W. Bell (mail) (www):
The Democrats originally used a rooster as their mascot, and sometimes still do. See for a brief account of that and other examples of the variety of animals--tigers, mice, mooses (or is that "meese"?), pigs, etc.--that have served as political emblems in U.S. politics.
10.3.2006 2:21pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I know that party icons or names are sometimes bestowed by the opposition and adopted over time by the vilified party. "Tory" and "Whig" were originally terms of abuse, were they not?

It seems like an interesting socio-psychological phenomenon. Why would I let my enemies name me?

At this rate, America will have the Wingnut and Moonbat parties in another generation.
10.3.2006 2:32pm
Russ (mail):
I found Mules, but no Donkeys or Elephants (or Mammoths or Mastedons) at the college level:

Central Missouri State University (Warrensburg, Missouri) (men's team)
Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pennsylvania

Searching the High School mascot lists would take me a week

10.3.2006 2:43pm
NickM (mail) (www):
IMO the fact that the animals are the symbols of political parties has led to their not being adopted by colleges.

Due to their size and power, elephants would be a logical choice for a mascot, but African animals other than lions are woefully underrepresented in the ranks of mascots (although it would be bizarre to have a team called the Zebras, since the officials already have that moniker).

Perhaps a team could name itself the Water Buffalo, and be accused of group racism. ;-)

10.3.2006 3:22pm
gorjus (mail) (www):
Dood, you don't have to be from the South to know about the 12 National Championships 'Bama has! Jeez! (Says loyal UA fan).

My favorite is the Tupelo High School Golden Wave. Um.

Other great Mississippi names were retired many moons ago, such as the Belhaven Clansman (note the key "c") and the mascot of Southern Miss, General Nat[an Bedford Forrest].
10.3.2006 3:25pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
At the time those mascots were introduced, the Prohibition Party was an influential political force, so they got an animal too: a camel. Get it?
10.3.2006 3:44pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
Oh, and speaking of sports mascots... I always thought that dolphins wouldn't be terribly good football players; they seem much more suited to basketball. Bulls, on the other hand, seem like ideal football players (when they charge, nothing can stop them) but rotten basketball players (not very coordinated or limber). Miami and Chicago should therefore switch team names.
10.3.2006 3:47pm
Can we replace the elephant and the donkey with the platypus and the spiney hedgehog?

No political point to make. I just think it would be cool.
10.3.2006 4:00pm
Jody (mail):
Penn State had a mule as an unofficial mascot for a while - Coaly. Penn State even has his bones on display. No word on if he gets the Bentham treatment though.

So when Bama plays Penn State we can sorta pretend its Republicans versus Democrats.
10.3.2006 4:06pm
Like Penn State, the Colorado School of Mines has a mule (well, OK, a burro) as its mascot, although the team name is officially the Orediggers.
10.3.2006 5:13pm
Adam Villani (mail) (www):
The Oakland A's have used a white elephant as their mascot, off and on.
10.3.2006 5:16pm
Adam Villani (mail) (www):
"Burro" is just the name for a donkey used as a pack animal (or gone feral) in the Southwest. So CSM mascot "Blaster" is a donkey, not a mule. Mules are donkey/horse hybrids. So there you go... for a true donkey/elephant showdown, pit the Colorado School of Mines up against the Crimson Tide.
10.3.2006 5:26pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
As a Republican, while I never really understood the elephant, I always found it perfectly appropriate for the Democrats to be represented by a jackass.
10.3.2006 5:39pm
Sean S. (mail):
i always heard it as the Dems were Mules, "Without pride of parentage nor hope for progeny." and the GOP as Elephants, "each grasping the tail of the one preceding it into office." they were both meant to be scathing.
10.3.2006 5:51pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Elephants are actually quite intelligent. They mourn lost pack mates, and I believe even have unique 'names' and use rudimentery tools with their trunks.

Apart from primates and doplins they are some of the smartest animals out there.
10.3.2006 6:02pm
GMUSL 3L (mail):
I'm shocked that other commenters haven't already pointed out that Army's mascot is also a mule.
10.3.2006 6:16pm
markm (mail):
IIRC, the King of Siam sent President Lincoln a white elephant (a traditional Siamese gift for foreign leaders), and after the Civil War the Republicans adopted the elephant as their mascot. It's a powerful and majestic beast, nearly as long-lived as humans, and one of the most intelligent.

OTOH, the donkey could hardly be anything but a negative caricature that the Dems finally adopted to turn it around.
10.3.2006 6:41pm
Edward O'Connor (mail) (www):
Rose-Hulman's mascot is Rosie the Elephant, though its teams are referred to as the Engineers.
10.3.2006 7:55pm
How about Tufts, whose mascot is Jumbo the Elephant of PT Barnum fame?
10.3.2006 9:37pm
OOPS, apologies to SLBertarian, whose prior mention of Jumbo I missed first time through the comments. (But does Tufts field a varsity football time?)
10.3.2006 9:39pm
John Herbison (mail):
It has become trendy to refer to Democrats as the mommy party and Republicans as the daddy party. How about the Oregon State Beavers v. the South Carolina [Game]cocks?
10.4.2006 4:02am
WHOI Jacket:
Roll Tide!
10.4.2006 12:02pm
12 championships??? Dude, the time that Mad magazine named you #1 in their 1918 preseason magazine doesn't count.

I don't have enough time to thouroughly fisk the statement. Maybe I'll leave it to some enterprising Auburn fan.
10.4.2006 1:45pm
Dave B (mail):

IIRC, the King of Siam sent President Lincoln a white elephant (a traditional Siamese gift for foreign leaders), and after the Civil War the Republicans adopted the elephant as their mascot. It's a powerful and majestic beast, nearly as long-lived as humans, and one of the most intelligent.

Dear markm,

Be careful of different cultures idiosynchracies: what may seem innocuous at first may not be so in reality. Gifts of white elephants are not meant to be positive. While the White elephant is considered a holy creature, it also means you cannot dispose of it and must treat it with incredible respect and expensive accomodations. Due to the care with which you must treat the white elephant it was a typical gift meant to destroy the wealth of people who were not liked.

Refer to this and similar sources. I read this information in a book when I was less than 10. I'm surprised I remembered it.

There is similar joke about cultural nuances when an unassuming advertising executive attempted to get the business of a middle-eastern cola company. He traveled to the middle east and demonstrated a 3-picture storyboard concept for a commercial. The first picture on the left showed a man thirsty and ravaged by the desert. The second, middle frame showed a man drinking said cola product. The third, and right-aligned frame, showed the man in a desert oasis surrounded by many beautiful smiling women, wearing rich clothes and surrounded palm trees and luxury.

After he was done showing his clients they recoiled in horror and sent him packing for the states.

What he failed to note was that people in that area read from right to left.

(What they saw in his ad was a man in paradise drinking their cola and ending up alone in a desert.)

And consequently, the other guy's post about the Oakland Athletics is related to this story. The metaphor of a "white elephant" was used by the New York Giant's manager at the time someone bought the Oakland A's. Which is related to why they sometimes use the white elephant as a mascot.
10.4.2006 6:18pm
I actually attended a school whose striped football jerzeys led to the moniker of Zebras. Our arch rival was linked to a Saint whose symbol (probably becuase he was martyred in the colliseum) was the Lions. During the 70's, they had an alum who was a high official in a game preserve in Kenya. It was reputed that he sent the Football team a case of Zebra Steaks each year before the annual football game.

I see no paucity of African Animals in WASP-land...
10.4.2006 9:29pm
And yet...of the 4 schools I've been to for a significant time, 2 of them have far worse team names. Specifically:

University School (Cleveland, OH) Preppers--the mascot was a boy in a coat and tie. Seriously.

NYU Violets--a tribute to the gay stereotypes of Greenwich Village, maybe?

What should the Libertarian party animal be?
10.5.2006 1:25am
Favorite school mascott happens to the be the Jordan High Beetdiggers in Salt Lake City, UT
10.5.2006 7:32pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
The Libertarian party animal. Hmm.

How about a sheep?
10.5.2006 9:30pm