Time for a new party symbol?

We are a nation in need of new animals. Because the old ones — the symbols of our two major political parties — no longer reflect reality.

The elephant must go as the Republican Party symbol. We all know that elephants never forget — and the problem today’s Republicans have is they can no longer remember.

They attack President Obama’s budget deficit but can’t remember that we got massive deficits from their presidential heroes (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Son). They attack Obama for being willing to sign a budget bill larded with fatty spending earmarks for home states and districts — but can’t remember that 40 percent of those earmarks are their own Republican porkers.

So the never-forgetting Republican elephant must go. But we can honor the heritage with this new Grand Old Party animal: The mastodon. It resembles an elephant but it cannot remember — because, after all, it is extinct.

On to the Democrats. Clearly, the donkey must go. It is known for being single-minded (see also: stubborn), determined to plod ahead along a narrow path — unless that’s what you want it to do, in which case it won’t move at all. Besides, donkeys wear blinders. They no longer symbolize Democrats, whose leader is boldly and decisively charging ahead in a number of directions at once.

Last week, Obama gave us economic stimulus and banker bailouts and a breathtakingly bold budget with a $3 trillion deficit. This week, he gave us health reform and education reform and stem cell research reform. (The last of these featured the president ending his predecessor’s most innovative creation — grandfathered embryos, a few lines of cells exempted via a grandfathering clause from a presidential ban on research.) Also, Obama signaled his willingness to sign into law an earmark-festooned budget bill left over from last year; never mind that Obama has vowed to end earmarks.

So the single-minded Democratic donkey must go. Fortunately, we found a fitting replacement: Doctor Doolittle’s Pushmi-Pullyu. Remember? It has two heads, one on each end, pushing and pulling in opposite directions. The movie version featured it as a two-headed llama; but llamas spit — that’s nasty, image-wise.

In the original children’s books, Pushmi-Pullyu was an antelope — that’s more fitting. After all, Obama is lithe and fleet and determined to defeat the multiple inherited crises that threaten to end America’s dominance as we have known and loved it; he is dashing in many ways at once, determined to lead us out of our misery.

Obama — the smartest president elected in the 21st century (a title that previously belonged to George W. Bush) — has said he realizes he has only a few months before the economic nightmare he inherited will become forever his. Fix it and he is a two-term president. Flub it and he’s a short-termer.

"First 100 Days" assessments have always been reflex-response journalistic exercises that were never worth the paper they were written on. But in a time when Wall Street seeks to rewrite history daily, perhaps 100 days performances do matter. And we are half-way there.

Someday we may look back and conclude that Obama’s problem was not that he led too earnestly and tried to do too much, but that occasionally he led too timidly. Such as when he silently allowed House Democrats to load their non-stimulating spending oldies into the first stimulus bill.

Also, faced with the latest budget bill’s earmarks, he didn’t heed Nancy Reagan’s slogan to just say no. He didn’t demand that Democrats and Republicans yank all earmarks from the bill. Including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s pet: a fast-train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. (Stimulus for gamblers?)

We know an extinct mastodon cannot take us to a better tomorrow. But it’s hard to see how a Pushmi-Pullyu can do much better.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)