OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - “The Elephant, the Flag, and the Cross”

(01/19/2005)

By Tony Russell

I felt somebody tap me on the shoulder when I was trying to find zinc tablets at the drugstore. When I looked up, there was Chet Basenback.

“Chester!” I said, sneezing. “My gosh, it’s good to see you. I haven’t seen you for – what, four or five years now?”

“More like ten,” he said. “The years are slipping away from you, Ace.”

“Like trying to hold on to greased tomcats,” I admitted, blowing my nose. “How’s your art career going, Chester?” Chet was one of those kids who never was on the right page at school, because he was constantly doodling in his notebook—an endless stream of automobiles, rocket ships, idealized women, and caricatures of the teachers.

“Pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been doing graphic design for the past few years, and the business has really taken off.”

“Good market for that sort of thing, is there?” I asked, curious, while wiping my nose on my sleeve.

“You’re darned tootin’,” he said. “For instance, I just got a new job from the Republican National Committee to design them a new emblem.”

“A new emblem?” I asked between coughs. “You mean they’re going to get rid of the elephant?”

“Oh, that elephant has to go,” scoffed Chet. “Come on, now, tell me, be honest. What do you think of whenever you see that pudgy pachyderm?”

“I don’t know. I guess it makes me think of bloated capitalism, of the rich and owner class getting fat off workers and the poor.”

“Sure,” he said. “That’s just a natural tie-in to the economic stance of the party. That’s why the elephant has to go. The RNC is looking for a new emblem that focuses on winning cultural issues, not losing economic issues.”

“I guess I can see why they would,” I said. “What direction are they going in?”

“I just happen to have a portfolio with me of the latest things I’ve worked up for them,” he said, reaching down and opening a flap. He drew out a handful of sketches and passed them over to me.

Leafing through them, I quickly realized they were variations on the same concept. “These are pretty catchy,” I said. “I just never would have thought of using the cross as a flagpole. I really like the way you have the flag unfurling in the breeze, with those curves contrasting with the straight lines of the cross.”

“Actually, it was their idea,” said Chet. “I’m just trying to capture the spirit of the thing. They figure that in one swoop, they’ll have appropriated the two most potent images in the United States for the Republican Party.”

“Imagine having those all to yourself,” I marveled.

“Isn’t that great? It’s consistent with the idea of property rights and free enterprise.”

“I notice you don’t have Jesus hanging on any of them,” I observed.

“Well, no,” he said. “The administration prefers to keep the wounded and dying out of sight and out of mind. Bad associations. So we’re just going for the cross itself.”

“What’s this up at the top of this one here? Is that a halo?”

“What are you looking at?” he said, glancing over my shoulder. “Oh, I’m not done with that one yet. That’s a yellow ribbon. I still need to letter ‘Support Our Troops’ on it.”

“Say,” I said, as an idea struck me. “Have you ever thought of just painting red and white stripes around the cross, with a field of blue at the top, decorated with stars? You wouldn’t have the flag just attached. Patriotism would be superimposed right there on religion. They’d be one and the same thing.”

“I like your thinking,” he said. “Actually, I suggested that, but it seems another organization is already marketing those, and the RNC wanted a breath of fresh air.”

“Do we really need another stiff breeze?” I wheezed. “It’s cold enough to freeze eggs under hens right now.”


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