Humans have been imagining non-human animals as human for at least 40,000 years and probably longer. The “Lion-Human” of Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany is 32,000 years old. We have invented non-human beings who stand for human traits, and anthropomorphized imaginary animals. We have even integrated non-human animals into human activities (think of all the driving dog anecdotes and don’t laugh but there are projects underway to teach dogs to drive) as a way of deconstructing the supposed human-centric complexities that make humans uniquely equipped to run the world. As long as there has been political satire, satirists have portrayed the fallibility of human political activity through the lens of non-human animals, free to exaggerate the gestures and tendencies we find irritating in each other as political agents.
In the real world, and just confining the phenomena to the United States (there are numerous instances elsewhere), many localities appear open to non-human municipal leadership. A black lab was elected mayor of Sunol, California in 1981; a golden retriever won the same position for life in Idyllwild, California in 2014; not to be outdone, a cat won the mayorship of Omena, Michigan in 2018. In 2019 in Fair Haven, Vermont, the mayoral contest came down to a Nubian goat and a Samoyed dog, and the goat won by two votes. Party-level elections have animal attraction as well: a mule named Boston Curtis won a Republican precinct seat in Washington in 1938–unanimously, 51 votes to zero.
There have been many more nonhuman candidates than electeds. Given how easy it would be to exclude these beings from ballots legislatively, one could conclude that municipalities’ acceptance of the occasional canine mayor (or in the case of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, canine mayors in perpetuity since 1998) serve as a performative critique of politics taking itself too seriously.
While non-human electeds in the real world may serve as satire for the political process, in children’s literature, many anthropomorphized animals have served as learning devices and satirical targets centered around the personalities of the candidates and the complexities of holding elected office. There’s President Squid, by Aaron Reynolds (illustrated by Sarah Varon), about a cephalopod who is the epitome of egotistical candidates (reason number four: presidents love to talk, and Squid talks all the time). And Paul Czajak’s Monster Needs Your Vote (illustrated by Wendy Grieb) offers up an animal pol with good intentions, who changes his platform in response to other people’s feedback, to focus more on education and literacy.
But ruling the pond is definitely the 2004 book Duck for President, by the acclaimed Click, Clack, Moo team of writer Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin. Duck gets fed up with what he perceives as Farmer Brown’s autocratic rule and decides to run for leader of the farm. Because no self-respecting duck would run for office without doing some research, he visits his mayor and governor’s offices, then the White House. He returns having decided that serving in office is too much work, all complexity and no fun. First Lady Laura Bush read this book to children on the White House lawn in 2007. This was not perceived as ironic by anyone.
Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote: “There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious.” The history of animals in American electoralism in fact and fiction suggests that this may not always be due to assumptions of our own superiority.