Pat Oliphant's cartoon melds two current concerns prominent in US newspapers. At one level it plays wittily on the theme of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the dreaded 'mad cow disease' recently detected in the carcass of a slaughtered dairy cow from Washington state —— unless, as is now suspected, it actually originated in Alberta. Instead of a mad cow, however, we see a mad donkey or a 'mad ass', as Oliphant puts it in frame 4. If nothing else has tipped you off①yet, that switch from donkey to 'ass' should be evidence enough that Oliphant is not really worried about epizootics. Remember that the word 'ass' in spoken English also means a fool and is a very mildly impolite word for the human rump. A 'mad fool' would be tautological, while a 'mad rump', meaningless in itself, takes us back to frame 3, where the crazed donkey is seen munching on his own severed haunch, before consuming the rest of himself in frame 4. This is a donkey that Alice would not have been surprised to encounter in Wonderland②.
What is really going on? Well, obviously, Oliphant is talking about the antics of the many politicians still vying to be named the Democratic Party's candidate for the US presidency. Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, seems to be moving to the head of the pack, but this has only stirred the other candidates to attack him (rather than George Bush) all the more rabidly. The Democrats have a crazed look in their eye, like Oliphant's mad ass; the party seems insanely bent on③consuming itself before it even gets to the main contest, the effort to defeat Republican Bush.
Is there no remedy for this self-destructive behavior? As the little bird indicates, apparently not.