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Great Questions of Our Times: Should the Bison Be the National Mammal?

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A few weeks ago, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota introduced the National Fluff My Constituents Act, a.k.a. the National Bison Legacy Act, to name the bison the National Mammal of the United States. That's about as clear a way as possible to say you hate humans, Tim Johnson. Why isn't the Overtaxed Small Business Owner the national mammal, or the fertilized egg? The Senate fucks up everything it tries. But at least it's tackling this big question. Let's hear the fors and againsts and try to reach a verdict, because if the Senate gets this question wrong, or right, American unemployment will remain at historically high levels.


The papers in South Dakota have come down squarely on the side on themselves. Mitchell, South Dakota's Daily Republic chimed in with this eloquent editorial, "Give bison its due, name it national mammal."

People of European ancestry are chiefly responsible for the buffalo's near demise a century ago — overhunting was one cause, cattle grazing was another — but people of all colors and backgrounds today tend to see the buffalo for what it really is: A beast that harkens back to our pioneering roots.

As for us, we see the buffalo as noble, steadfast and hearty, all of which are traits we also see in South Dakotans and others who live on the western Great Plains.

We say give the buffalo its due. Push the National Bison Legacy Act onward and into passage.

Put the mighty buffalo upon a pedestal that remains below that of the mighty bald eagle, but upon one that still pays homage to the cultural significance that the rugged creature holds out here on the Plains.

But lo, a counterpoint, from A. Barton Hinkle in the Richmond Times Dispatch! This was reprinted in Reason, so it's along the lines of "if the government names the bison the national mammal, who knows what it will do next?"

The next thing you know everyone is getting in on the act. Retirees who spend every weekend going to square-dance conventions start a campaign to have the square dance designated the state's official dance — just as it has been in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and 19 other U.S. states. Then the fishermen demand to have the bluegill (Illinois) or the crappie (Louisiana) named the official state fish. Pretty soon you have an official state butterfly such as the two-tailed Swallowtail (Arizona) or the Karner Blue (New Hampshire) – along with an official state dinosaur (Hadrosaurus foulkii, New Jersey), shell (Crassostrea virginica, Virginia), soil (Harney silt loam, Kansas), sport (jousting, Maryland) and potato festival (the Albemarle Potato Festival in Elizabeth City, N.C.).

Then the schoolkids join in. According to the official state website of Colorado, "In 2007, Jay Baichi's 4th grade class began the process to get the Western Painted Turtle designated as the Colorado State Reptile. His 4th grade class the next year completed the legal steps and Governor Ritter signed HB 08-1017 on March 18, 2008." Oh joy. Before you know it, the drunks and practical jokers have had their way and you end up like Nevada — which has, kid you not, an official state artifact: a 2,000-year-old Tule Duck Decoy made out of bulrushes that was found during a cave exploration in 1924. Second prize is two Tule Duck Decoys.

This is what America has in store for it, if it goes down the buffalo road. And it cannot end well. Gibbon wrote all about it in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and we are repeating the mistake again 2,000 years later. It's all on the Internet, you can look it up yourself.

Our verdict: Those were the two most inane articles we've ever read.

[Mitchell Daily Republic, Richmond Times Dispatch]

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