Iowa Debate; Warren-Sanders; Thomas Nast

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Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. Ninety-one years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, the middle child of a Baptist pastor and Alberta Williams King, herself the daughter of a pastor and likewise martyred (she was killed while playing the organ in her husband’s church).

I’ve written about Dr. King the past two years on this anniversary, so today I’ll mention that on this date in 1870, German-born political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the Democratic Party as a donkey. In a moment, I’ll have a word on Nast, and how he also portrayed the Republican Party as an elephant. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors, including the following:

*  *  *

In Iowa Debate, Mild Feuding and No Fireworks. Susan Crabtree assesses how what each candidate needed to do and whether they succeeded.

Old Friends, Bad Blood: War Simmers Between Sanders, Warren. Phil Wegmann has the story.

National Popular Vote: Bipartisan Reform to Presidential Elections. Patrick Rosenstiel & Scott Drexel praise the movement to change how electoral votes are won.

Data Underscore Brokaw’s Assertion of Media Negativity. Kalev Leetaru lays out the numbers.

Impeachment and the Fight Over the Deep State. Charles Lipson weighs in.

Could Missouri’s Eric Greitens Make a Comeback? Steve Hantler argues that the political establishment weaponized the justice system to go after the conservative governor.

Reagan, Trump Have More in Common Than Attacks on Gadhafi, Soleimani. Peter J. Wallison cites similarities that go well beyond the efforts to eliminate purveyors of terrorism.

President Trump Exposed Iran’s Weakness, for All to See. Rudy Giuliani writes that last week’s events demonstrated the regime’s dread of an all-out confrontation with the United States.

*  *  *

The donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party has been around since Andrew Jackson’s presidency. But it was permanently etched into the nation's collective political memory with a wood engraving called “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion,” which appeared on page 48 of Harper's Weekly on Jan. 15, 1870.

This depiction wasn’t necessarily a compliment. The donkey (or jackass) stood for Northern Democrats known as “Copperheads.” More precisely, the donkey represents the newspapers loyal to the Copperheads. The lion they were kicking was Edwin M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s former secretary of war, who had died the previous year.

Nonetheless, the image solidified Democrats as donkeys. Four years later, Nast returned the compliment to the opposing political party by employing an elephant to lampoon the GOP. This Harper's cartoon was titled “Third-Term Panic.” Again, the satirist’s direct target is partisan newspapers.

The New York Herald, which Nast depicts as hysterically terrified over the mere possibility of a third White House term for Ulysses Grant, is the donkey wearing lion's skin. “Caesarism,” it cries. Although the donkey-in-lion's skin is transparently counterfeit, he still manages to stampede other timid animals, i.e., the New York Times and the New York Tribune.

Meanwhile, a raging rogue elephant is standing over a cliff labeled “Chaos,” while breakings its restraints, which are platform planks. The elephant is “the Republican vote,” which only goes to show that everything old is new again -- and vice versa.

Nast’s busy cartoon, which has more going on in it than an early Bruce Springsteen song, is captioned: “An Ass having put on the Lion's skin, roamed about the Forest, and amused himself by frightening all the foolish Animals he met with his wanderings.”

Extrapolate that to current politics (or the state of modern journalism) any way you wish, my fellow donkeys, elephants, lions -- or independents -- but as you do, try to take some solace in the realization that American politics has been screwed up before. We almost always find a way to muddle through.

 Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau Chief
Twitter: @CarlCannon

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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